Tuesday 23 August 2011

Badges of humanity

The Oh Fuck Moment, St Georges West, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

In a single second of realisation, your sweat glands burst. You can actively feel your pupils dilating. Your throat clogs, the world fades from view and your stomach – oh, your stomach – widens into a cavern in which bile sloshes about like an eddy. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Oh Fuck Moment.

Thankfully, Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe are entirely sympathetic. They’ve probably done worse and, even if not, chances are they’ll know someone who has. Somewhere between seminar, group therapy and public confessional, The Oh Fuck Moment drills a burr hole in each of us, releasing the build up of guilty pressure beneath the surface. By the end, you’ll wear your cock-ups with pride: life’s little battle scars; badges of humanity.

The Oh Fuck Moment is the sort of mistake from which there’s no coming back. It’s the too candid email that hits the wrong inbox, the violin left in the back of a taxi, the ringing telephone seconds after an execution and the wrong label on a newborn baby. ‘Mistakes as eradicable as smallpox,’ they shape us into the people we are today. They change the world irrevocably. History is written in its Oh Fuck Moments.

Each account works because we know it’s leading to some denouement, building towards catastrophe. While beautifully expressed with understated poetry and performed with a kind intensity, it’s the moments of reality that really hit home. Walker and Thorpe donate their errors for our sake, entirely without self-pity. The latter’s ownership of missing his father’s final moments is devastatingly matter of fact and universal. Such moments have real charge, particularly when it reaches beyond recounting to summoning. Acting out the black box transcript of a plane crash feels genuinely dangerous, as does bringing a hockey stick the better to demonstrate its puncturing rectal tissue.

Our own seem paltry by comparison and lose their paralytic power. The physiological and psychological symptoms are empty hangovers, remnants of a more primitive existence. This is theatre at its most cathartic, acheiving instant effects that reach beyond the auditorium with wit and empathy. It makes a responsibility of taking responsibility, but it also makes it manageable. To err is indeed human, but Thorpe and Walker don’t put a foot wrong.


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