Beth Porter describes Wherehouse La MaMa’s show Hump.
‘Well Pete [Reid] and I had met David Benedictus during that first summer, we had seen those films that had been made of his first novel You’re a Big Boy Now – I don’t know if that was his first, maybe his first was Fourth of July, I can’t remember- anyway, we’d seen that and we loved the movie, and he had this book called Hump; or Bone by Bone Alive and we thought that was material we could work with. And that’s a very interesting book because it’s about a hunchback dwarf who could maybe do levitation – maybe. We each had a turn playing Hump, so the costumes were…and I remember where we went…there used to be an Army and Navy store just behind Euston Road.’
‘Laurence Corner, it’s still there’ [Susan Croft]
‘Yes, Laurence Corner….and we had gotten a few things from the guy there before, so we came trooping in and he said, ‘Oh it’s you’… and we wanted these like overalls, long sleeve, button up, very loose fitting…we sewed on the back of them a kind of star in strips of velcro, and whoever in the show, during the course of the show, was taking the role of Hump had this multicoloured cushion stuck on these stars, so it was like a hunchback…very effective symbol…
And at one point we needed levitation so we went to…you’re going to tell me the name of this too….it’s across the street from the British Museum was a magic shop. Do you remember that? Anyway, there was a magic shop there and Peter said, ‘How do you make someone levitate?’ And he [the man] was so sweet he gave us the sort of simple way, which I’m not going to reveal, but it was very effective and just so simple you can’t believe it.
Basically it’s about how this creature is castigated and abused and how he comes out triumphant. There was a fantasy woman and a real woman and we just reversed it, so the fantasy woman – we had a scene where he takes her for a horse ride, and the real woman we had built, and this was the genius of one of our guys called Dave Webster, who was an artist. He had been an animator, he had done some of the animation on Yellow Submarine, and a musician, and he designed and built – and don’t forget we were travelling so that everything had to be folded up – we had this little trailer– so it all collapsed down, and it was all on wheels so could go anywhere, and when you collapsed it up, it was this structure that all three of us women could get into. And it had this head, this sculpted head of this woman on it and holes cut out like, in the nipples and the genitals and the belly button, where we could poke things – appropriate or inappropriately – you could poke your hair through the breast – it was just fabulous and bizarre and sensual in a way that you just would never expect, it was spectacular.
So there was stuff like that, and then there was the funniest thing of all which was the ‘Plank act’ … when we did it, we looked like a trapeze act with you know, assistants with their arms out going ‘Ta Dah!’ But what we were doing, was lay the plank on the floor and we just walked, we jumped over the plank, we walked across the plank, but every time we did it we went ‘Ta Dah!’ You know like it was something really…like we were doing it up in the air, you know. It was so funny, I can’t tell you how funny it was, it didn’t matter if you were in Brussels, or Stockholm or Italy, people just cracked up. And I know we did this in Paris and St George and I can’t remember if any of the other venues were big enough to do it, but when the audience first came in they were kind of filtered through, like a labyrinth before they could enter out into the performance space… we could go up the ladder on the other side you know, and encourage them to go further down this corridor, and nobody sat down, it was standing, everybody stood in the space when they finally got there. And the lights only illuminated the scene that was on at the time, so if one scene was finished, the lights went down and across the room, the lights went up, so everybody went to where the lights [were] first. And I know that Ariane Mnouchkine did something similar years later, but we did it first! …again you can see there’s a direct connection with what we’d been doing with Tom [O’Horgan] you know, but it was our own, we’d made it our own and that was stunning, I like that.’