“The sky was painfully big, but our worlds were small, our lives little. So when we found each other in the muddle of it all, that feeling of belonging was addictive.”
Performance poet Malaika Kegode and Bristol four piece band Jakabol – have joined forces to create Outlier, a fusion of concert and the spoken word that explores friendship, isolation and addiction as Mal introduces us to Ama, Lewis & Oskar, and those moments and choices that have the power to change us.
With design by Rebecca Wood, Bristol Old Vic’s stage is transformed into a house party – back of stage draped in rugs with Jakobol, who have written as well as performing the score front and centre along with Malaika herself, telling the story. Joe Price’s lighting, vivid and intense colours that change whip smart depending on the mood, is stunningly complimented by Christopher Harrisson’s playful and striking projections: everything from text messages, strawberries, neon doodles to Terry Pratchett appear throughout. There’s an energy and sense of immediacy to proceedings that is palpable and striking, not least by having some audience members on sofas, and Malaika able to come and sit closer to them on occasion with space made in the pit.
This intimacy helps elevate the storytelling massively, even if there are occasions it feels a little rough around the edges. An autobiographical piece, Malaika’s storytelling is spirited, full of warmth and humour as she guides us through moving from Devon to Bristol, her budding relationship with Oskar, including a joyous anecdote rhapsodising about shopping in Wilkinson’s and breaking the fourth wall to, among other things, tell us about the back injury she has sustained.
The difficulty came in tempering this with the darker, edgier moments that characterise the latter stage of the first half, and into the second: there were moments that perhaps dragged a touch too long, or not given long enough to fully hit their emotional impact, but one can see the merit in this pacing given the gritty subject matter.
That being said, it is in the more poignant moments that Outlier consistently had flashes of brilliance: especially when Malaika describing the funerals of her friends, their joy in living and learning to embrace change when they are no longer with us. Something about that felt incredibly potent and touching, as did the quieter moments where we learn the friends just sit and talk – especially given the current climate where we are adjusting to new ways of socialising at a distance and striving to stay connected.
Billed as “gig theatre” – Jakabol’s powerful score – a blend of heavy rock and softer folk accent Malaika’s words and help drive the story forward, and though the transitions between words and music sometimes felt a little jarring , it was impossible to resist being swept up by the atmosphere as the audience reacted to the music and Malaika’s cheeky asides and questions.
A piece dedicated to outsiders, who are oft forgotten because of where they live, or the circumstances they find themselves in, Outlier is raw, tender and funny but perhaps most of all: timely – a note in the programme says: “we made this for you. If you need it.” With the talent on display here, and themes that feel relatable, stories like this should always be told.