I had heard much of Jess before, but never seen her perform. I have also lived around Lichfield for almost thirty years, but never seen St Mary’s Church upstairs used as a performance space. So I approached the performance, her final date on a thirty date tour with curiosity, as well as expectation.The venue itself, turns out to be excellent. Unsurprisingly, the acoustics are excellent, the setting grand, yet intimate, perfect for a spoken word performance.
Jess performed to a good -sized crowd that was a little older in age profile than I had anticipated. I felt that her entrance could have been beefed up a little. An MC giving her an energetic welcome, and a prominent “Seven Nation Army” would have drawn the ubiquitous “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant from the audience, and started proceedings on a high, but she quickly won the crowd over by sheer force of personality.
I was not entirely sure what to expect, what was performed was unashamedly political, polemical and on point for the largely Corbynista audience. There were extended periods when it felt like we were listening to a political speech, but was none the worse for that. Poetry can be accused of being anodyne, and this was anything but. In centuries gone, poets were often commissioned to produce extended poems about politics, heroes, and anti-heroes. Jess is tapping into that tradition but in a 21st century context.
There is light and shade in her performance, with anecdotes providing between poem interludes. The story of how her Labour supporting family found a way to inflate LibDem election expenses, and the story and poem of her noisy neighbours delighted and entertained in equal measure. Delivering a one hour show, solo is no easy task. Jess succeeded with her BBC Slam Championship winning material, charm and verbal and textual dexterity.
She closed with “Jeremy Corbyn is 68 going on Sexy” which is a tremendous performance piece, but as she reflected in her introduction can be dangerously misinterpreted if its tongue in cheek nature is taken out of context. The closing film clip of Corbyn meeting her and endorsing the book was perfect. You do not have to be a rabid Corbynista to enjoy the show, there was plenty of excellent merchandise, but no pamphlets on Soviet Tractor Production figures, pictures of Mao on the walls were notable by their absence. All you have to do is be prepared to listen to one of the best spoken word performers around right now.
A great show, a fine performer. As she gains traction production values will improve still further.