One in 20 people has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome). Sarah Emmott is one of them and in this ‘Art with Heart’ production, she tells us what it’s like from the inside. It’s an incredibly brave performance – honest, funny, sad, thoughtful, thought-provoking and bursting with an unfeasible amount of energy.
For the first 15-20 minutes or so, Sarah is like a tornado around the space – explaining and demonstrating her inner world and all of its sensations and imperatives. And as the show develops, we get a vivid sense of the mental ‘noise’ she endures, the struggle to restrain her impulses and the regret when she has – entirely inadvertently – said/done something hurtful.
Sarah’s story is told with a great deal of humour, but there is also poignancy here. She reveals her anxieties about about raising a child, her desperate attempts to fulfil the expectations of others, the exhaustion of it all, her spiralling desperation and ultimately her capitulation – a visit to the doctor. The outcome of this visit elicits the saddest line of this performance; “I wanted him to solve my problem – he gave it back to me like a recycled gift.”
What follows is a fascinating examination into the implications of labelling – and, in particular, the quest to work out “what is me and what is it”. What seems to have emerged from this – and from meeting with other people with ADHD – is a greater self-acceptance, and a celebration of difference and the creativity that the condition generates.
The experience of ADHD is conveyed – in part, at least – as frenetic and relentless. And this is mirrored in ‘Declaration’ as a theatrical experience. I am blown away by the energy of it all, but it also feels a little numbing at times and I find myself yearning for more changes of pace to relieve the intensity and enhance the impact of the different insights.
That said, ‘Decalaration’ is a creative, challenging, highly entertaining and moving piece of theatre which has undoubtedly deepened my understanding of ADHD. As an ex-school teacher, I just wish I’d had access to it some time ago – and I suspect that some of Sarah’s old teachers are thinking much the same thing!
(Photograph: Sam Ryley)