Vanessa Smythe has a bit of a ‘downer hobby’: she worries about disappearing. Since childhood, she and her brother have always made lists of things they should do before they vanish from the earth, such as using their Subway voucher or going on a family outing. This conversation always ends up with them telling each other stories. And so Smythe begins her show, telling us little tales from her life through a unique display of stand-up, spoken word poetry, and song.
You are certainly safe and sound in Vanessa Smythe’s company.
Her poems cover intimate territory and Smythe manages to achieve that disarming combination of confidence and vulnerability. She shows her romantic, angsty side as we hear about the man who first sparked her love of poetry, and her sad trips to the local sports bar. Sudden comic twists and a dash of self-awareness mean that Smythe’s words avoid becoming too cutesy.
Her comfort on stage is evident and she is oblivious to the latecomers clambering over chairs midway through one of her songs. The whole body is used to tell a story, with occasional arm gestures accompanying the tripping verse. Smythe’s clear voice is steady as her eyes flicker around the room, as if she’s trying to invite everyone in by making eye contact with each individual. It feels like she’s talking directly to you and no one else.
It’s not all just love and heartbreak. Smythe proves her range and maturity in a poem exploring a trip to Gallipoli where she imagines the silent Turkish victims during the First World War. Later, more light-hearted (but no less touching) poems narrate a sweet restaurant scene from her experience as a waitress, and the final poem recalls a drunken booty call gone wrong – or right, depending on your point of view.
Smythe approaches everything with the sweet, childlike spirit of emotional sincerity. This can be hard to get used to, especially for a cynical Brit like me, and it may not appeal to everyone’s taste. At the beginning of her show, Smythe’s style feels slightly affected, as if she is just going through the motions of standard spoken word delivery. But by the end, the Canadian performer has the room in the palm of her hand. Her endearing invitation for all to join her for the ‘after party’ in the bar is impossible to turn down. One of the songs is like a lullaby, as she trills to an unknown person ‘you’re safe and sound with me’. You are certainly safe and sound in Vanessa Smythe’s company.