18th January 2018
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Review by Andrew Bailes
Spennymoor born Adam Welsh transforms from sound artist to theatre maker in ‘There but for the grace of God (Go I)’ developed in Camden People’s Theatre London and becoming his first solo show.
Titled after a quote often attributed to devout deacon for the Church of England, John Bradford, Welsh’s hour long performance incorporates Lego, a webcam, an inflatable lilo and the nostalgic bleeps of 2-D platformer games. Leaning on his experience as a sound artist to the biggest theatre companies in the world, the show creates an audiovisual experience dripping with substance. Immediately engaging from the outset, the audience at Stockton’s ARC theatre were treated to a smattering of casual jokes and audience participation as Welsh set out to demonstrate the act of ego-surfing. After googling his own name, Welsh quips; ‘That’s not me’, as the image of a six year old boy sporting a cap and a baseball bat is projected onto a set of string curtains in front of us. Instead, he reveals, that is the face of a six-year-old boy who became a national news story in America, as the most famous missing persons case in recent history.
Adam Walsh, born 1974, was in fact kidnapped in 1981 from a Sear’s department store in Florida and quickly became the centre of national outcry and fame. It’s this fame then, that has affected the theatre maker performing infront of a packed crowd at ARC, making him question: if my name is corrected to that of a six year old boy, not even alive, what does that say about my success?
What follows is a deeply personal reflection on a parent-child dynamic that so many can relate to. Candid video clips sprinkled throughout ‘Grace of God’ show an aloof father and a panicked mother telling the story of Welsh’s childhood, paralleling young Adam’s kidnapping, and questioning what lasting impact this had on everyone involved. So often theatre shows can focus on the lowest of lows as they consider life in it’s darkest places, becoming macabre without giving you the high to contrast it. Welsh makes no such mistake. As a result, emotional sequences like the jarring physical rage with which Welsh breaks his own set and his haunting rendition of Johnny Flynn’s ‘Time Unremembered’ give such an emotional payoff that – when Welsh fell uncomfortably silent to ponder his father’s teenage poetry – pounding hearts and muffled sobs were the only things left to hear.
With a deeply affecting twist ending, the sporadic reenactment of true crime and personal memories throughout ‘Grace of God’ amalgamate into a truly moving theatre show that is nuanced, funny, and sophisticated. Whether it means loved, or simply famous, I think Adam Welsh is going to be successful for a long time to come.