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Adult Child / Dead Child

by Claire Dowie

Adult Child Dead Child Flyer
Dowie's uplifting one woman show is an engaging look at mental illness and self-acceptance. Starting locked in a cupboard, ending in the park with Lady.

Katy Vans of Blurred Vision gives an open and honest performance created with Boy Who Cried's artistic director Leah Townley.

"Utterly compelling and very touching" ***** Remote Goat

"Leah Townley's direction is acute in skill and detail....
Katy Vans is masterful"
Fringe Report

"Enlightening... The audience around me seemed mesmerised" **** Fringe Review

Performed at the Camden Fringe
16th - 19th August 2009

Winner: Best Drama, Fringe Report Awards 2010

Leah and Katy accept their award for best drama

Press for Adult Child / Dead Child

Remote Goat:

Review of Adult Child/Dead Child
"Utterly compelling and very touching" *****

You could be forgiven for thinking that watching a one woman show about mental health might be a bit of a depressing or indulgent experience but the joined forces of Leah Townley and Katy Vans give us something utterly different and incredibly sweet.

In fact, from the moment Ms Vans walks onto the stage you feel at ease, compelled and charmed by her very presence. The well-paced piece begins with the simplicity of a woman on a chair telling us her own story of the development of her mental state in her own childlike way. Moment by moment, we live each part of her life with her, smiling, giggling and, at times, somewhat horrified.

The piece is engaging from start to finish and really reminds us that the core of any theatrical piece is the connection with human existence. It is done unfalteringly throughout.

I left the theatre touched, smiling and feeling that it was a 50 minutes of my life very well spent.

Dannie Carr, 16/08/09

Fringe Report:

Adult Child / Dead Child
Verdict: Living with her invisible friend

The stage is black; there is a stool with a large book laid flat upon it. A wooden chair with a jacket draped over the back is further forward; there's a solitary pink parasol with spots, closed and propped-up in the centre of the back wall. Katy Vans is a little girl, the focus of the play, dressed in a turquoise T-shirt, baggy blue jeans and blue baseball trainers. She has a playful charm, playing a tom-boy to contrast with her perfect and pretty sister represented by the pink parasol.

She tells how her parents treated her, as against how they treated her sister; how they thought it justified to lock her in a cupboard for punishment. She starts out at about 4 years of age, and talks about her new invisible friend; someone she needs to create: no-one else cares for her or takes any notice. The friend makes her do naughty things.

She moves on through ages 8 to 13 to 17, and early adulthood, describing things which happen to her, or as a consequence of her actions - but perceives them to be the actions of her invisible friend. The girl becomes aggressive as she becomes more angry at the injustices, and develops a mental illness which progressively affects every aspect of her life. Recalling a game she played with her dad as a child - she innocently hit him with a tomahawk at night while he was asleep - she relates another story. This time it's with a hammer, and a more sinister intention.

Leaving home at 17, she tries to do the things many may take for granted - such as finding a first home. She goes through the mental health system. Her invisible friend remains - dull or bright, ever an ominous presence, ready to distort her world and bring chaos. The girl welcomes her friend, relies on her, misses her when she's suppressed by drugs, wishes her back into her life - and to share it with her.

Leah Townley's direction is acute in skill and detail. Subtle mannerisms of a child are there, so that it feels as if the child is really present. Katy Vans makes good use of the stage and minimal props in her characterisation. Simplicity is the key - the few items are utilised so effectively that they take on their own personalities; the pink parasol, for example, is believable as the sister. Even without the props, the story would come to life, because Katy Vans is so animated and emotional - and all at the right times.

The book on the stool comes out when Katy Vans takes on the role of one of the many psychologists - Break Down The Angry Wall Of Hatred (Or How To Heal Your Inner Unloved Child) is a poignant title in the story's context. Ben Blaber's inspired lighting design brings a new level to the play's keynotes. His use of red light to emphasise the adult presence of the psychologist lends a clinical and harsh atmosphere. Blue light for night-time, coming from either side of the stage, shines on the little girl, worrying about the consequences of her actions. The rest of the time, the lights are up but soft - as if the girl is here but dimmed, hidden in some ways and not completely herself or comfortable to be exposed. A spotlight comes up from the side of the stage to signify the past, and the difference between then and now. It's consummate work.

As the invisible friend becomes more real for the girl, she becomes more real in the play. And later she's a menacing voice: 'An eye for eye, tooth for tooth'. Katy Vans is masterful with Claire Dowie's script as the the girl struggling through life, keeping the child-like voice throughout to show how the girl remains in her mind - a child trying to be good, and to be loved. She constantly finds the right balance to bring out subtleties of characterisation, sometimes using mannerisms and posture alone. There is a moment when she simply sits upright on the chair, with her hands on both knees, and wrings the material around with her fingers. It precisely evokes the torment the girl is facing. Katy Vans commands the stage, and holds attention throughout. Who couldn't connect with this child, or wish for her future to be safe?

Chantal Pierre-Packer, Monday 17 August 2009

Fringe Review:

Camden Fringe 2009
Adult Child / Dead Child

Low Down

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.

Reviewed by Katty Pearce 16-19th Aug