Writer/Director: Sarah Emmott and Rachel Moorhouse.
Reviewer: Sam Lowe.
Informative, witty, and honest are some of the labels which can be placed onto Declaration. This is not the first show to explore themes of mental health and what impact a label has on a person. Nevertheless, the performance is a unique and detailed exploration of these subjects. This is an autobiographical performance about Sarah Emmott who has been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), the audience learn about her life growing up, they learn about how the diagnosis has changed her life, and realise what it is like to walk around in Emmott’s shoes. The attention to detail is outstanding because the show was developed in consultation with ADHD and mental health support groups and medical professionals.
Immediately, we begin to understand Emmott’s personality as she warmly welcomes us into the theatre. Emmott tries to find out facts about everyone because she loves to collate as much information as she can. The staging of Declaration in the round, means everyone is close to Emmott and each other, like a circle of trust, which is a lovely idea. Her autobiographical storytelling and performance is energetic, popping like a balloon, conveying her personality. She plays around with movement and the delivery of the words. The movement is directed by Deborah Pugh, who has done an incredible job at trying to physically communicate, the internal emotions and processes of Emmott’s mind. Of course, it is impossible to communicate exactly what Emmott’s experience of ADHD is like, hence she regularly jokes, “You know what I mean?”. However, the physical theatre exploration is insightful, bold, and beautiful. The audience are involved in many ways during the performance, and at one point a couple of people are asked personal questions about their lives, which allows for meaningful interaction between the audience and performer. It is so moving to watch and is not invasive in any way. Emmott is well practised at responding to members of the audience, often with loveable humour.
A washing line of collated knowledge and memories circles around the space, as designed by Richard Walker. The set allows the audience to further explore Emmott’s mind and interpret how easily she can become distracted and focus on lots of topics or become fixated on one subject for hours on end. Greg Akehurst is the lighting designer for the performance, and in one moment his use of cold and unsettling wash of white lighting effectively conveys what Emmott calls the “black tunnel”. This metaphor is in reference to her meltdown, which may happen if she loses a personal item or if something is misplaced.
At certain times in the performance, Emmott effectively utilises two fictional characters to allow herself to indulge in the person she wishes to be. The character costumes she wears, are designed by Christine Emmott. One character looks at how Emmott could be without ADHD, the other reveals the positive sides of living with ADHD and embracing the condition. These moments were funny, touching, and creative.
Not only is Declaration relatable to those with ADHD, but even if you are not diagnosed with it, there are still aspects of her personality which are relatable. Meaning, the performance is accessible to anyone and everyone. The important thing about this performance is that it raises awareness of ADHD, it is educative, and brilliantly conveys the emotional experience of living with the condition. Declaration possess the power to comfort, evoke joy and help people through a colourful, vibrant and inviting experience. The work of Art with Heart Theatre is a must see, the positive change they are making is incredible.
Reviewed on 24th June 2017.