Writer: Mark Wilson
Director: Sarah Meadows
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Loneliness and shame are the abiding feelings of very young women forced to give-up their child for adoption, but while families did all they could to hide this social indiscretion from their neighbours, incidences were quite widespread. Mark Wilson’s 2015 narrative play You which is revived at the Vaults Festival demonstrates the much wider impact enforced adoption has on the relatives on both sides of the process as well as the enduring effect on the central mother and child.
15-year-old Kathleen meets an ‘army-lad’ on leave and after a brief affair discover she is pregnant. Horrified, her parents allow Kathleen to continue the pregnancy but arrange for another family to adopt the child, handing it over shortly after birth to a university lecturer and her husband. Years later, the now 30-year-old Charlie comes looking for his birth mother dredging up long buried emotions for all involved.
Performed with a traverse set-up with the audience physically, and pointedly, able to see both sides, Sarah Meadows expressive production is a revealing insight into the community of inter-related lives affected by Kathleen’s pregnancy and subsequent events. Using only two actors who must embody a much wider cast, You is an ambitious piece that attempts to compress multiple viewpoints and 30 years of fragmented history – told as reminiscences as well as unfolding event in the present day – into just one hour.
There is a strong sense of place in Wilson’s writing that conjures-up numerous locations and time periods through character narratives. Among the most vivid moments are Kathleen and Tony’s first romantic night together as they meet in a crowded club, clearly, a happy memory for them both, supported by music and Jamie Platt’s warm lighting design. Likewise, the audience can almost see the hospital in which Kathleen is essentially tricked into giving away her child, nicely balanced by the impressions of that day from Kathleen’s father and Vanessa who becomes the baby’s adoptive mother.
A core feature of Wilson’s writing in this play is that performers must switch characters mid-flow and both Kathryn O’Reilly and Stephen Myott-Meadows, as the two cast members, bring clarity to those transitions, making it clear they have become someone else. They also do well to bring out unbidden emotion of their various roles which, again, is a particular feature of You as characters describe the subsequent effects of their actions.
While the characters are distinct, there isn’t a huge depth to most of them, and with such a short duration there’s no time to properly establish their identities more firmly. Kathleen is fragile and pitiable but there’s more to say about the rebelliousness and need for affection that led her to Tony, while the gulf that Kathleen’s father feels opening between them is ripe for further exploration to understand whether he is ever successful in repairing the distance between them.
Nonetheless, Wilson’s play captures the range of reactions that all the individuals involved in a single adoption would experience, from the birth mother’s regret that transforms into guilt and fear at seeing the child again years later, the anguish of the adoptive mother who always feels she’s borrowing someone else’s baby, to the adoptee who spends a lifetime wondering what else he is. Meadow’s production clearly shows that “people may do what’ easiest” but giving up a child has a life-long and wide-ranging effect on everyone involved.
Runs until: 18 February 2018 | Image: Contributed