Carrie Rudzinski and Olivia Hall’s friendship has always been at the heart of their work. In The Bitching Hour it is front and centre, the glue that holds the show together. As soon as they enter, they launch into a poem about being bitches. It is bitching that brings them together – this fun, juicy, feminine-coded (oft degraded) activity. And it is their willingness to be bitches for and with each other – to call each other out, dispense harsh truths, and be the worst versions of themselves openly and vulnerably, and laugh about it – that forms their strong bond.
The Bitching Hour has a more formal premise than their previous work – we are cast as the studio audience in their TV show. No longer are we in the hodge-podge coziness of their living room; now there is a desk with a microphone and two matching armchairs, complete with cue cards and an applause sign. However, the actual structure of the show might be their least formal yet. Performance poetry invites audience engagement by the very nature of the medium. But here it is taken to the next level, as we literally play a game of Articulate with the performers, and they pull out topics from ‘The Bitching Jar’ that audience members were invited to contribute to pre-show (keep an eye out in the Basement foyer).
It was in between these spirited segments that Rudzinski and Hall’s poetry was scattered. Though their feminist themes were still as strong as ever, the poems tended to revolve around capitalism and Covid – their experiences of dealing with the chaos and fatigue that has been the past few years. This broadened the scope of their poetry, depicting more universally human experiences (though still particular and personal).
There was a lot of discussion of the nature of being an artist – oblivious family members at barbeques, audience members responding to their show (some of whom definitely should’ve kept their opinions to themselves), the hustle, the drive, the anxiety, the doing-everything-yourself. This, too, reflects our capitalist society that so often de-values artistic work as not legitimate, not a real job, and the strange situation one finds oneself in of having to monetise the thing you love most and would be doing regardless.
In keeping with the TV show format there is a special guest each night. This was a smart decision, as it allows for new perspectives and a new energy to enter the space. When I attended, it was non-binary performance poet Dan Goodwin. Dan’s poem was one of my favourites of the night – a beautifully written and heartfelt depiction of grappling with one’s gender identity and coming out. There was a welcome freshness to this content, an expansion of the human experience able to be discussed. Dan was then interviewed by Rudzinski and Hall, and played a game before being farewelled. Again, the friendship dynamics between the three of them were key to making this work. They all had an ease with each other that made the interview feel more like a casual chat, inviting the audience in.
Rudzinski and Hall perform some of their greatest hits as well as completely new material. It was all very relatable, though nothing especially raw or revelatory. Overall, the experience of The Bitching Hour is one of pure fun. Like bitching itself, it might touch on deeper topics but there is a general lightness to it, a playfulness. Bitching is a deeply social act. The content of the bitching is not as important as the connection it forges between the participants. It is this feeling that Rudzinski and Hall have managed to capture. As performers, they brought a real sense of joy and spontaneity.
The Bitching Hour is a celebration of the things we do to get us through this strange and exhausting world, the ways we find comfort and comradery. It was a warm and intimate experience, full of silliness and frivolity and a good old bitch.
The Bitching Hour plays Basement Theatre 27th June – 1st July 2023