Adam’s show Only was first performed as a work-in-progress reading as part of one of our Ferment Fortnights, before being developed into the finished show that played in our Studio last June. Most recently he’s taken it on a tour of Bristol, performing in community spaces across the city, and in June he’s coming back home to Bristol Old Vic, to tell his story again alongside the stories of some of the people he met on along the way…
This show’s been on quite a journey. Tell us about the original concept behind it.
“The project came about because I felt lonely and I wondered why. I thought maybe it could be because I was an only child, or that I’d just moved to Bristol. So originally it started life as exploration of my loneliness, despite there being quite a lot of people in my life and the more I wrote it the more I realised that actually a lot of people must feel like this.
So I wrote a show about it. It was purely about my relationships with the people in my life and I used empty chairs to represent each of them. I did worry that it would be self indulgent and that people wouldn’t relate to it but I hoped that the theme was universal enough for people to connect with it.
Fortunately they did and people would come up to me in the bar afterwards and tell me things (quite personal things) about their life – what happened when their granddad died, details of their relationship with their parents – and I remember thinking how brilliant it would be if I could harness all of this material into a show.
So I started to think about how I could do it. I needed a way of collecting people who’d responded well to the show and getting them to tell their own stories to build a sense of us all being in this together in lots of ways. That’s how the tour came about – the idea being that people would see the show in their local community, that we’d have a quick chat about it afterwards and that I’d facilitate them writing their own story before incorporating in to my own. In each place I would give the audience a prompt sheet to fill in afterwards with questions that would get them thinking about their own lives. Stuff like: what does your name mean? When were you born? What significant events took place in the year of your birth? What was your relationship like with your parents? What were the circumstances of your birth? Tell me about a family member who’s died… Quite personal stuff. And not long ago they started to send their answers back to me.”
Tell us about your experiences in some of the different performance spaces.
“My first show was in Ashfield Young Offenders Institute. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a secure prison and I was quite nervous because it was my first gig and I was about to perform a massively personal show to these four inmates I’d never met before! It was really interesting to do though – they heckled a lot so I did stop the show on a couple of occasions. There was one part where I said a line about my Mum listening to Fleetwood Mac and Barbara Streisand when I was growing up and one of the lads just cracked up and started laughing. I don’t know what it was. But the more he laughed the more I laughed which then made him laugh more because my laugh’s quite high pitched, so we just had a minute and a half where we were just laughing at one another – it was great.
I performed the show in a couple of schools. This was a different experience again. They really listened and their responses were surprisingly reflective and personal. There’s one lad taking part from Colston School – a guy called Nick. I liked his story. When he was younger he really wanted a dog, but his parents wouldn’t buy him a dog, they bought him a fish. So he used to take the fish out of the tank and stroke it and then put it back.
Then I did the Thali Café in Easton which was probably the toughest venue of all. It was a small space so I had to reconfigure the chairs. The audience there was probably the most theatre-like of all the audiences and interestingly I don’t think anyone from there has decided to write anything as a result of it.
I did a performance at a brain injury unit at Frenchay Hospital. Two people from there have written in to me to say they want to take part in Only Us and they’ve both got really interesting stories. This was a fascinating audience actually because their experiences fit really well with the show in terms of the themes of what you remember, what you don’t, whether your memories can ever really be accurate and about what happens to your relationships if you forget who people are. Both these participants very much feel that they’ve lived two different lives – the life before and the life after their injuries – and that they’re two different people because they’ve had to start all over again in a sense. And then when they start to remember things from their ‘old’ life you get this really interesting cross over…
The final performance was at Wild Goose Space, to an audience of one, who happened to be an only child, like me. It was an interesting experiment to just do it for one person and it paid off as she’s now really keen to take part in the Studio run.”
What’s struck you most about the stories you’ve received from people so far?
“There’s a lot of sadness in them. I mean my story (or my show) is quite sad but I think generally the feeling is that I’m doing alright, whereas some of these people aren’t all that happy and they’ve not come to terms with the things that have happened to them. I hope that sharing their stories with other people through the show, and finding out that they have a lot in common with the audience as well as one another, will help them come to terms with some of it. And if I achieve that then the project comes full circle; from me sitting on my own, writing about me, to a room full of people talking about themselves and realising they’re all connected as part of a bigger picture.”
Publicity photo by Chris Collier. Photos from the Colston School performance by Mark Douet.