Writer and Performer: Louise Wallwein
Director: Susan Roberts
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
There’s an empty seat in the audience. Its emptiness is accentuated by the single spotlight that illuminates it. Someone hasn’t turned up and poet Louise Wallwein isn’t sure if she can start her show. The next 70 minutes is a quest to find this missing person.
Ostensibly, this missing person is Wallwein’s mother who gave her up for adoption when she was a new-born, but the missing could equally be Wallwein herself as she endeavours to discover who she really is, after being passed, like a parcel, from foster home to foster home. As a child, she felt fractured and so stuck her fragile self together with imaginary glue. At the end of a twelve-year search, Wallwein does, eventually, find her birth mother. But it comes at a cost; in gaining her mother, Wallwein loses her voice.
And what an engaging voice she has. With her Mancunian accent, and her carefully crafted sentences, Wallwein has the audience spellbound, as we join her on her odyssey. Based on the spoken word tradition, Wallwein’s lines are tight and polished and, occasionally, end rhymes or internal rhymes, bring satisfying conclusions to the various sections of her narrative. At other times her words are blunt and ironic: ‘being brought up in care you need to get used to travelling light’ or ‘the best thing about being institutionalised is that it gives you walls to kick’.
Wallwein’s sidesteps the expected dénouement to her story, and strips away other narratives that perhaps would do better than the slightly saccharine ending. Her years spent as a queer activist fighting Thatcher’s Section 28 are quickly glossed over, as is her career as a go-go dancer in the club Flesh: these episodes of Wallwein’s kaleidoscopic life are worth further exploration in this search for family.
The Ovalhouse’s vast stage is used imaginatively, and Wallwein’s story is also illustrated by red helium balloons that strain in the air wanting to fly, or by huge shadows that loom on the back wall. Accompanying the words and images is a mixture of recorded and live music by Jaydev Mistry, deftly moving from the melancholic to the uplifting.
Glue is a clever piece, but perhaps Wallwein has glued too many stories onto this show. But then again, life is a sticky business and we carry all manner of things that we really ought to let go. Ultimately, this is her lesson, that to move on we must let go and as she releases the balloons to the ceiling, Wallwein ensures that she never becomes unstuck.
Runs until 7 October 2017 | Image: Rachel Cherry