Camden Fringe 2009
Adult Child/Dead Child
Blurred Vision and Boy Who Cried
Venue: Etcetera Theatre
Claire Dowie’s extended monologue explores the experience and effects of mental illness in a surprisingly uplifting and insightful way. This one-woman show tells the story of an unloved child with schizophrenia struggling into adulthood and is by turns humorous and poignant.
An unnamed ‘adult child’ tells of a childhood with cold, emotionally withdrawn parents and a ‘perfect’ sister. She is the troublemaker and black sheep of the family who invents an imaginary friend to keep her company. But the imaginary friend never leaves her, and she names this other personality Benjy after a mischievous dog owned by ‘The Lady’, the only adult she gets approval from. The girl’s progress from problem child to out-of-control teenager, through psychiatric care and into independent adulthood is moving but unsentimental. It is also very believable and doesn’t offer easy answers, though it does offer hope.
The play deals with the realities of developing schizophrenia and doesn’t feel clichéd. It unlocks the daily realities and unlooked-for consequences of the condition from the perspective of the adult looking back on her confused and sometimes adorably innocent child-self. An incident involving an attempted hammer attack on her father makes perfect sense to her, and by explaining it from her point of view it makes a strange kind of sense to the audience too. Such moments are potentially dark, but there are touches of humour and absurdity which lift the piece without undermining its seriousness.
Katy Vans is an ideal solo performer with huge charm and warmth. Her adept story-telling is focused and engaging, backed up by a director who knows what to do with her. The touching moments are played with subtlety, skilfully interweaving playfulness with utter sincerity. Vans is always in command of the language of the piece, which is rhythmic, repetitious and highly structured in its seeming randomness. 50 minutes just flies by in her company, and the audience completely trusts her from the beginning. Vans has previously worked in the mental health sector, and it’s obvious she has complete understanding for the subject and empathy with her character.
Leah Townley, who has previously won praise for her style of storytelling theatre, helps capture the humanity of the piece and does justice to its message. The repetitions and recurring images of the script are captured nicely in movement, and the show has an ‘order out of chaos’ feel which means the audience stays with it at all times. Lighting is used to suggest place, although with varying degrees of success in such a small space, and the original music punctuates the structure and mood of different scenes. The monologue feels like a play in itself, as it should, and there is always something different happening in the various sections to stand out in your memory.
The combination of the performer and director seems a strong one, and each has their own production company with a different focus. Vans’ Blurred Vision has a focus on the cutting edge, and Townley’s Boy Who Cried on varied and inventive styles. With this play the two work beautifully together to create something refreshing and real which is rooted in the essence of theatre.
The play’s title probably makes it sounds like an earnest think-piece with a miserable ending and Sarah Kane flourishes; or worse, worthy and preachy about failures in society, healthcare or the family unit. But it’s none of these things. It’s enlightening and reasonable, and the audience around me seemed mesmerised and pleasantly surprised to find this little gem at the Camden Fringe.