Declaration

Sarah Emmott and Rachel Moorhouse
Art with Heart
York Theatre Royal

In this lovely, warm-hearted bear hug of a show, writer and performer Sarah Emmott talks to the audience about growing up with ADHD and her eventual diagnosis at the age of 30.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is commonly associated with unruly schoolboys. However, as Emmott explains in the show, this is because boys with ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed than girls with the same condition. With Declaration, Emmott and co-writer / director Rachel Moorhouse hope to dispel some of the myths that surround the disorder by raising public awareness and promoting empathy.

If this sounds rather staid and worthy, Declaration is anything but. Over the course of 70 breakneck minutes, Emmott offers us a vibrant retelling of her life story, beginning with her early years as a boisterous, hyper-inquisitive youngster. Throughout her childhood, she was told by doctors that her innate buoyancy could be contained by eliminating sugar and E numbers from her diet, but these measures were understandably ineffective.

Despite finding happiness in adult life—Emmott is a talented theatre-maker with a loving and compassionate wife—she still has to grapple with the travails of ADHD on a daily basis, not least impaired impulse control as demonstrated in a powerful sequence where she must fight against an overwhelming desire to break a cafetiere full of scolding coffee.

Declaration is a terrific piece of work—charming, funny, playful and genuinely poignant. Emmott is a hugely likeable and charismatic performer who wins over the audience from the very start and takes us on a heartfelt emotional journey. Her innate energy is infectious and overcomes any viewer inhibition, resulting in some inventive and rewarding audience participation.

Crucially, this is a show that doesn’t hide away from the painful aspects of ADHD, and Emmott spares us nothing when she talks of the intense anxiety and confusion she experiences when her routine is disrupted.

The colour and vibrancy of Emmott’s performance is reflected in other aspects of the production. Director Rachel Moorhouse’s direction is fluid and inventive, as is Deborah Pugh’s choreography. Christine Emmott—the performer’s mother—provides the costumes, and they are undeniably eye-catching, particularly the sparkly attire worn by her daughter’s superhero alter-ego.

It was a joy to see York Theatre Royal’s studio reconfigured in-the-round. Richard Walker’s clever set design, which comprises of washing lines from which hang a variety of disparate objects, allows the audience to explore the inner workings of Emmott’s mind. Aileen Ging’s lighting design skilfully recreates the performer’s changing moods. The use of film, including interviews recorded with Emmott’s mother and wife, adds another dimension to this rich production.

My only real gripe with Declaration is that Emmott ran out of the theatre before we could give her the round of applause she so richly deserved.

James Ballands