Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe’s New Show
WORDS: SAMUEL FRY
Who do you call when you are lonely? How often do you check your phone? Are you one of those people that can’t stop checking your mobile when meeting with friends? These and many other questions were asked in “I Wish I Was Lonely”, a show where the audience commit to leaving their phones on.
We enter, nervously handing over our mobile numbers before being sat down on chairs that are scattered around one of Battersea Arts Centre’s shabbier rooms. Holding our phones in our hands, we are asked one question before the show begins: “If we were to tell you that all the information on your phones would be wiped during this performance, would you leave?”
One by one we hesitantly lifted up our arms. At this point, no one quite knows what they are in for. In time, the performers’ smiles turn from menacing to reassuring. This was just one of a number of their probing jokes and their tone was set.
I Wish I Was Lonely is a new participatory show from poet Hannah Jane Walker and theatre maker Chris Thorpe – the duo behind 2011’s award-winning The Oh F*ck Moment. The show is about contactability and our interaction with mobile phones.
Throughout the show, Walker and Thorpe encourage a gentle conversation about everyone’s our reliance on mobile phones. Having been told to commit to leaving our phones on, the audience text and receive phone calls throughout the evening as we are prompted to question our overuse and over-reliance on technology.
Despite being billed as a gentle conversation, there are moments where the audience are made to feel extremely anxious. At one point, the whole thirty-something audience are asked to leave their phones in a circle in the centre of the room. The performers pick them up, flick through them and even jump over them. I couldn’t help but fear that the content of my phone would be exposed to the rest of the audience. Remembering that my phone has a security lock on it, I felt some relief. However, with anyone’s phone at risk of being called at any moment – that fear never quite leaves you.
The show cleverly constructs a balance of gentle storytelling and unnerving moments throughout.
There are poems interspersed across the whole performance – some constructed with the help of the audience. Then, there are open stories about the performers’ experiences with their own phones, which prompt us to question our own mannerisms: the tone of our texts, how regularly we check our phone and those people that we call during our most bored moments. Hannah Jane Walker asks, near the beginning, that “If your phone goes off, please answer it as you normally would. We are all interested to hear what you say.” Phone-calls and texts are subsequently received by the audience throughout the show – triggering additional material and making each performance unique.
Poet Hannah Jane Walker and theatre maker Chris Thorpe have clearly worked extensively together. As a result, we feel safe in their company.
The pair make performance work which is part poetry gig, part interactive experience. Historically, their work has taken place in theatres, but also in offices, meeting rooms, cafes – anywhere that people can come together.
Battersea Arts Centre is an ideal venue for them. Describing itself as offering polished and unfinished shows, the space is ideal for encouraging the ideas and feedback of an audience. Battersea Arts Centre is clearly not just a place where everyone plays a role in inventing the future of theatre, the audience also comment on the now.
The pair make performances based around honest encounters between themselves, their audience and the difficult, but often uplifting moments we all face in the process of living. Together, they made the Fringe First winning show The Oh F*ck Moment – a conversation around a table for brave souls who are willing to admit they f*cked up, which premiered in Edinburgh in 2011 and has since toured the UK extensively.
I Wish I Was Lonely will be on for a three week run at Battersea Arts Centre, which includes a one-off performance on Thursday 6th March 2014 that integrates British Sign language rather than featuring it ‘off to one side’ – providing access and an extra dimension to the conversation for deaf and hearing audiences alike.
“I Wish I Was Lonely” is created by Hannah Jane Walker & Chris Thorpe. The show runs at Battersea Arts Centre from 24 Feb – 15 Mar 2014. Tickets are £12, £9 concs. For more information, visit www.bac.org.uk/wish.