FringeReview UK 2018
Adam Welsh directs everything: lighting, props, recorded music, pre-set; all but the most rudimentary stage management. As often in this space, there’s no set other than the props.
Ever googled yourself? Go on. Adam Welsh cajoles the audience standing up from his tiny red kid’s chair where he’s been crouching ADHAD-style over a computer game and a 1980s projection on the back curtains of Soho’s Theatre Upstairs.
It’s the spectacle we’re presented with strewn with inflatables, a dangling red telephone, a table scattered with toys, a computer allowing close-up selfie videos to then project on that gunmetal curtain screen. Welsh takes everything: lighting, props, singalong to pop tunes, direction in this sprawl of brilliance. It doesn’t usually work so well but Welsh is master of timing. There’s synching, proleptic actions (speaking a dialogue before a broadcast version pops up with someone else), mnemonic twists – the reverse of all that; and mimicking his father, who appears onscreen too.
Adam’s a great disappointment to his parents. He might have been a teacher. He clearly needs help. People who meet him say so. Welsh rises from this geeky crouch to his own consummate stature in minutes and you wonder what the fuss is. Where’s the wound? Isn’t it universal?
There But For the Grace of God (Go I) is what happens when you google Adam Welsh. You get Adam Walsh the six-year-old who vanished in 1981 in a Hollywood shopping mall, and whose story strangely counterpoints Welsh’s in a number of ways. Well now you get Adam Welsh on Mandy and Twitter but sure enough directly below there’s Adam Walsh in his red baseball cap.
In the midst of darting round the stage, screening videos of his parents, mimicking his father’s Geordie, there’s a trauma. His mother was terrified of water for a reason that’s finally made clear. Abandoned for some Gamester item by his father John in Gran Canaria, Adam’s mother and she in 1996 (he was nine) wander about a water-fringed beach. He vanishes. His aquaphobic mother has no means or language to look for him.
Later it emerges that Adam’s father John (Adam Walsh’s father is also John) lost a younger brother, Neil. Herodotus instructs fathers not to see their sons for their first five years, Adam relates, so infant mortality wouldn’t traumatize them. The mother’s grief is only natural and not to be counted nor a daughter’s death. It seems Adam was taught the same three skills Herodotus praises.
Still it’s coincidences building up we’re meant to see as remarkable: water training both Adams had, so if the earlier Adam fell into a drainage system he could swim. Perhaps more than the factitious resemblances is the way Adam Welsh makes his family complicit in experience of young death. If these are real.
Welsh is a master of utilising every prop – that phone dangling synched into the projected film of Adam Walsh (made in 1983), his own camera trained on his parents. John Walsh’s wrenched eloquence young and older, and a final coup I certainly won’t spoil.
Most of all though Walsh meditates the meaning of loss and intimacy; the first precluding the latter from fear of getting too close after early trauma. Or how we negotiate the fining down of life, from his father’s haunted, halting existential musings at seventeen, to his own. He begins couched in his parents’ disappointment. He ends in a kind of benediction.
This is a rare instance of an actor knowing exactly how to direct himself. It’s a super-Fringe show well worth reviving, and Welsh clearly puts his life into it. Where next? Like the life stories behind this, you’ll have to google it.