Mike Tilling, Arts Correspondent

ADHD – The Musical: Can I Have Your Attention Please

It is difficult enough when confronted with a stage show that has a worthy cause as one of its themes, far more recondite when a cause is the raison d'être of the whole production. It is stating the obvious that, under these conditions, the action has designs on the audience and its opinions that are clearly didactic. This implies no criticism; after all, the cause is at least explicit, but does it make for good musical theatre? To offer a flavour of the show’s emphasis, the list of creatives has no credit for a lighting designer but has an Access Consultant listed.

So, what do we have on stage?

The writer and principal performer is Dora Colquhoun. It is her life and times that form the material for this exploration of the condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. The show was co-devised and directed by Izzie Major. Although ADHD is a condition that mainly affects boys, the only male on stage (George Jenkins) was at the keys.

The action opens with the song I Made It, asserting current health, and then goes back in time to explore the origins of Dora’s condition and the factors that exacerbated her disassociation throughout early childhood and school. Various characters from popular culture are introduced, such as Dolly Parton, Mary Poppins, and Cher (in Turn Back Time mode), to illustrate stages of development and sources of inspiration, but self-doubt is ever present and represented by a growling teddy bear. The theatrical genre that springs to mind in the first ten minutes is vaudeville, as we see a mixture of song, dance, and comedy delivered at a frenzied pace.

At intervals, a screen supplements the action. Unfortunately, I could barely see any of the photographs, statistics, or questions projected. Perhaps my seat was inconveniently angled to see the images, or perhaps this was an alienation device to give audience members an understanding of ADHD ‘blind spots’ where others know what is going on, but the likes of Dora do not.

Other songs have uplifting messages, such as Don’t be Afraid to Fail (perhaps good advice for any of us) and Hit by a Bus. These songs carry the message forward, but they do not offer any variation or diversity of experience.

There are several other devices to try to give the audience a feel for what sufferers with ADHD go through. From curtain up, Dora attempts to shatter the fourth wall by circulating around the audience, making comments on hairstyles, and distributing goodies. She is assisted in this by Rebecca Clarke, who provides backing vocals (and the provocative Cher impersonation), and Phoebe McSweeney, who provides stage management as well as ensemble involvement. Also on stage is Cheryl Walker as a BSL interpreter.

Did ADHD The Musical achieve its aim of enlightening the audience?

The answer must be ‘yes’ given the packed audience and the applause at the end. There was obviously considerable sympathy for the cause, although it did appear, through the Q&A session at the end, that Dora was preaching to fellow sufferers and the already converted. I do not think this was the audience that she would have had in mind when she conceived the show.

Mike Tilling watched ADHD The Musical at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Tour Dates
Theatre Royal Wakefield 25 Sept
Parr Hall Warrington 13 Oct
Arts Centre Ormskirk 31 Oct to 1 Nov