Brighton Fringe 2011
Hannah Jane Walker is a performance poet and visual artist based in Norwich. She co-runs Norwich Poetry Club, manages arts projects, writes articles and runs creative writing workshops. Her poems have been described as “lyrical, muscular and acerbic”. She studied literature at UEA, and a Poetry MA in Newcastle; and was short-listed for the Bridport Awards in 2009. She performs at events, festivals and residencies around the country including Latitude, Truck, The Edinburgh Festival, Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Shunt.
“Saying sorry is conversational ellipsis. Saying sorry is social glue. We use it to make people like us.”
“Why do we say sorry? And how do we say it like we really mean it? Hannah Jane Walker hosts an intimate round table performance with a small, invited audience, sifting the genuine from the insincere, drawing on her personal experiences as a serial apologist.”
Last year Walker devised this solo show, ‘This Is Just To Say’, an interactive evening about apologizing. It takes the unusual form of an intimate piece set around a table about apology in which Hannah invites the small audience (12 people per show) to pull up a chair and drink some wine. A conversation (led by Walker) with poems (performed by Walker): the themes cover manipulation, remorse, revenge, absolution, Britishness, love and winning.
This piece of work was developed by an Arts Council England, East initiative run by The Junction in partnership with Colchester Arts Centre. The programme champions exceptional performing artists and companies from the East, who want to showcase work at the Edinburgh Festivals, receive structured support and become part of a creative community. ‘This Is Just To Say’ was first presented in Edinburgh 2010 as part of Forest Fringe. The show is currently touring.
This show successfully engages us through scribbled apologies from members of the audience, live phone calls to personal friends by the poet, and a glass or two of wine: all built into this endearing and thought-provoking show on social etiquette, remorse, and the need for apologies in life.
It does seem that people are more and more looking for personal, interactive experiences from their theatre. And I guess this must link with the whole move towards user-generated content. I’m sure it doesn’t mean traditional theatre will cease to exist, but theatre as a whole is embracing the current atmosphere, which feels like an exciting place to be.
As this piece seems intended to be interactive theatre, the audience (egos cannot help it) become most interested in the interaction bit. And it got me thinking -How could those people have really got involved, in a more meaningful way? Walker indeed gave her audience a place to start, and some inspiration and guidelines to keep them going, but it didn’t seem to go far enough. I felt that there was a sort of conflict here – was it her event, or their event? I feel that it would be a lot more clever, and indeed more original and experimental if it were essentially their event. And therefore each event, each evening, would be more unique.
This piece also got me thinking – Is it really theatre? And in a simple sense, yes, I think it is. It’s live. There’s a script, props, lighting, characters, a set; and a sort of story is told. It’s definitely a framed space as much as a traditional theatre space is. What happens between the players is constructed and mediated by the structure that, Walker, as an artist, has created. She uses a narrative, and tension, and suspense. And the audience simultaneously become audience and player.
All theatre work (even more traditional theatre) should be about using the tools of performance to create a space for exchange and reflection between performer and audience, sure. No matter how interactive, or not, this becomes. But here, in this piece of theatre, there is a wonderful opportunity for a very special kind of exchange between performer and audience.
Theatre should always be about journeys, about revelations; an opportunity for the theatre-maker to transport people out of everyday space. And actually, Walker has indeed achieved this transportation here. I found my mind whirring and absorbed in questions about apology, and my senses were fully engaged in that tiny, atmospheric, candle-lit room. I only wish I hadn’t had the sense that this performance was a little self-indulgent on the part of the poet. This piece of work is a worthy and enjoyable experience for the audience, but if Walker set her mind to it, I feel she could give her audience a even more exciting experience.