The Argus: fringe_2011_logo_red_thumbSince the economic downturn and rising examples of politicians taking advantage of their expense accounts, the public apology has become a major feature of daily life.

In This Is Just To Say, the act of apologising takes centre stage in an interactive conversation piece devised and hosted by performance poet Hannah Jane Walker.

“There is a massive culture of apologising,” says Hannah. “Newspaper headlines are full of demands for an apology from highprofile individuals or celebrities demanding an apology themselves. We just don’t notice them any more.”

Hannah’s own desire to investigate the act of apologising came from a certain amount of self-analysis.

“I’d done a number of things that I wasn’t particularly proud of,” she admits.

“My actions weren’t matching up with the idea of myself as an ‘all right’ person – so I wanted to put some things right, and let my friends and family know I cared about them.”

Her research uncovered a National Sorry Day in Australia, when the country makes anannual public apology to the Aboriginal population for all the wrongs they did them in the past.

“Apologies can be a strategic way of controlling your public persona, or cleansing your public ego,” she says.

“You start getting taught to apologise when you’re extremely young. It’s important that children also learn what remorse is about and what their actions can lead to.”

This Is Just To Say is a show for 12 people, with Hannah leading round-table conversations about apologies and reading self-penned poetry on the subject.

“The conversations and show can go in any direction,” says Hannah.

“It’s not a therapy session, so we ask couples and friends to sit apart.

“When we did a show in Edinburgh, we did have a couple break up over the table. People didn’t know if it was staged!

“My job is to tell poems and provide conversational starting points.

“I also try to look after people. Apologies can be quite a dark subject matter – I don’t want anybody feeling bad about themselves.”

She refuses to repeat any stories told over the table, underlining that it is a show in confidence, although those taking part are encouraged to write down apologies as part of the show and leave them behind for future audience.

“I have more than 2,000 hand-written apologies that different audiences have contributed,” she reveals.

“People have been really surprising and generous.”

As for the shows themselves, she has found people are generally willing to open up.

“I can’t decide whether I have been really lucky or whether it’s down to the informal set-up,” she says.

“There’s no stage and no performer with a spotlight on them.

“It’s interesting working with a group dynamic because people behave differently in a group.

“Sometimes you end up getting a group of people who really love each other; other groups almost seem scared of each other. Even if people don’t vocally contribute, they add to the atmosphere.”

Once it has played Brighton, having already appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe and Forest Fringe, Hannah is taking This Is Just To Say to Australia.

And she has started work on a followup piece, with the support of The Nightingale.

“I’m working with [director] Chris Thorpe on a new show called the Oh **** Moment,” she reveals.

“It’s about our mistake culture. The show is set in a disused office, looking at how we stigmatise mistakes and how if we don’t make mistakes we never come up with new solutions.”

* 7.15pm (4.15pm matinees tomorrow and Sun), tickets £10, call 01273 917272