Director: Emma Wright
Reviewer: Gemma Corden
Taking the concept of public confessional to a whole new level, Oh Dear Diary is a one of a kind experience – imagine a spoken word open mic night gone a bit AWOL.
The Pet Shop Boys soundtrack sets the scene. It’s Christmas 1986, a time of band worship over brand worship. There are yobbos, fire alarm drills and broken promises. The concept’s creator, local girl Emma Wright, tells us how ‘boring’ Christmas was that year, and how much she missed the best friend who never replied to her letters after moving to another school. There is a collective sigh from the audience.
For one night only, brave volunteers read aloud from their teenage diaries for an evening of embarrassing real life stories. The idea came about after Wright and friends read extracts aloud from their diaries after a night in the pub, and the first Oh Dear Diary went public in 2014 as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival.
Each brave reader gets up to ten minutes on stage in an intimate arrangement that has the audience painfully close to the action. A huge spotlight on the reader’s face blinds them to their audience in an intense effect that ensures there is literally no place to hide from the shame. In a nice touch, just off stage, a series of photographs from the time bring the readings to life – big hair, braces and all.
The audience is led down memory lane with stories of first kisses, bra fittings, getting drunk and apologies to mothers. The audience revel in side-splitting laughs and misty-eyed nostalgia, jam-packed with gorgeous hyperbole (“I think I love him more than the school holidays“), philosophy (“We talked about Jean and Matt and death“) and sexual discoveries (“January. Wore a condom for the first time. Posh wank“). The highlight is one boy’s account of a tortuous Scottish camping holiday in the midst of his parents’ divorce, serving heart-wrenching hilarity.
The inevitably differing styles and quality of delivery is very effective – while more composed readers have the professional timing and confidence of stand-up comedians others, clearly nervous, bring an added awkwardness to their memories which only adds to the delicious charm of the evening.
A rooted local identity is a natural result of the Oh Dear Diary concept, with some readers bringing along the friends mentioned in their diaries – this collective experience really makes the evening spark. Interestingly, the concept also allows for light socio-political reflection on modern society that bursts through all the rampant nostalgia, in a perhaps not-wholly-unintentional side effect.
The shared experience of remembering, although a universal appeal, clearly draws an older age group – the youngest reader was born in 1985. But, in our ‘advanced’ society that leaves record numbers of young people anxious and depressed, today’s teenagers could get a lot out of a night like this. It is reassuring to know that we are not alone and, in the end, it does all get better.
Reviewed on 3 October 2015