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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Poet Vs Pageant (BATS Theatre)

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Trying to enchant an audience with a story

on the back of wit and rhyme,

is a style and a performance type

not done enough in this time.

But here is poet laureate Telia Nevile

and her performed poetic feature,

about beauty pageant ambitions

from an outcast and ungainly creature.

Now I best continue without writing in verse,

for the longer I do it gets increasingly worse.

Even before the show has begun, you get a pretty good idea about the kind of juxtaposition that will feature heavily in the piece - a minimal set of a simple white table and a card propped up up with the words "The Introduction" (which is then swapped over at the beginning of each new round of the competition) contrasting with the heavy metal the precedes performance. Similarly, Nevile's writing is full of delicate descriptions of ballgowns and bodies mixed with violent imagery of corpses and broken bones, symbolising the emotional impact of being casually dismissed on the basis of physical beauty.

Our protagonist's journey is predictable, but nonetheless entertaining. She is caught between two extremes of being totally isolated and trapped in a bubble of delusion of untapped potential and superiority, and the vacuous and false nature of popularity and glamour, and naturally there is commentary on both this vacuous nature (Nevile's delivery of the sadistically critical judges is deliciously brutal) and elevating oneself above friendship and competition.

Nevile herself recites her carefully crafted lines as though reading a fairy story (indeed the rhyme scheme and imagery reminded me of the Grimm brothers and Road Dahl). She is detached enough to leave your judgement of the poet protagonist to you, yet energetic enough that she embodied her when she needed to, such as when admitting to enjoying the company of her fellow pageant contestants or in the marvellously entertaining cheerleading scene.

Poet Vs Pageant is a welcome reminder of how entertaining performance poetry can be. Nevile gives you something to think about in terms of social commentary without forcing an agenda. The classic narrative and character arc are adorned with brilliant writing and a performance that is confident but never smug, and is expressive but never overpowering. If you get the chance, this poet and her little show are definitely worth a punt. Four stars.

Whispers from the crowd:

"She was fabulous! Excellent writing within a story. What starts as commentary becomes a personal story everyone can relate to. It was beautiful."

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