Another overdue review, this time of The Oh Fuck Moment at The Basement, one of my favourite arts venues in Brighton (the other being Brighton Dome). I'll admit I was attracted to the show based on the title - not because I just love a cheeky bit of swearing, but because the humour and also the pain of those embarassing moments seemed to be a brilliant concept for a show. The performers described the premise behind the title as 'the moment [...] that could only be expressed by the words 'Oh Fuck,' and a dawning horror'.
Again, this was a performance I knew little about, and I wasn't even aware the performance was in The Pit, the smaller of the two performance spaces within The Basement. As we entered the space we were each given a cup of tea, which really was a lovely touch, immediately putting the audience at their ease. Also a welcome gesture having given up alcohol due to health reasons and being unable to get cups of tea at the bars of arts venues! The audience then took their seats around a large table, strewn with stationary and pieces of paper with anything from HR policies to manual handling information: as if this were not a performance at all but rather a work meeting or training day.
Considering the intimate setting, the increasingly apparent audience participation and my not feeling great on the evening - I was relieved to find that the two performers Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe employed the perfect combination of charisma but also approachability. No one in the audience was ever judged or laughed at - the 'oh fuck moment' acted as a source of unity: the moment where everyone feels at their most vulnerable. The audience interaction was handled delicately and with innovation. The performers stated at the beginning of the performance that no one had to do anything they didn't want to - absolutely no pressure to get involved. No one was picked on and the choice of audience member to contribute their 'oh fuck moment' at various points in the performance was based on various markings on the underneath of the mugs everyone was given at the beginning.
While the sharing of these 'oh fuck moments' often proved hilarious, both from the performers but also the audience members, the performance did not shy away from more painful moments - described in the Basement's programme as 'the poetic guts of mistakes.' The story that stayed with me long after the performance was that of missing a parent passing away by mere moments. The switch from Hannah speaking in the third person to Chris speaking in the first conveyed that this was not just any painful oh fuck moment, but rather his story and deepest regret. This was a poignant and moving moment.
This was a perfect introduction to performance poetry for me, something which I was previously unfamiliar with. Performance poetry can include day to day narratives, or the grander, more painful moments in life: it is regular speech empowered by rhythm and structure. The moments when Hannah and Chris would be really in the swing of a narrative, or poem, such as that of the 'oh fuck moment' resulting in a plane crash - the room was filled with this intense energy. I don't know if I can quite articulate what I mean - but all I know is that I had limited ideas about what performance poetry could be and that it is now something I would seek out.
This was one of the most enjoyable evenings of performance I experienced in 2011, and no doubt also one of the most memorable. While a completely different medium, the production team of 13 at the National Theatre should take note. This is what I was talking about in my previous blog post - that excellent performance that makes a point while also moving you does not have to go mad with staging and money. To me, this sort of venue and performers such as these are the ones who should be funded, not massive rotating cubes at the National, but maybe that's just me.
If you're interested in future works of these two performers they can both be found on twitter: Chris - @piglungs & Hannah - @hanwalker. The Basement also has an active twitter page - @TheBasementUK.