Review by Sam Waite
Navigating adulthood and mounting responsibilities can be difficult, particularly for those who have the added struggle of their brain’s wiring not matching up with those around them. In ADHD The Musical: Can I Have Your Attention Please, writer-performer Dora Colquhoun tackles the concept of normalcy, things about herself that make more sense post-diagnosis, and the power of a good bath bomb.
Arriving at Camden People’s Theatre near the end of a UK tour, Dora’s seemingly semi-autobiographical show is part musical theatre, part educational talk, and part sketch comedy. Dora (the character) tells us that her ADHD diagnosis was accompanied by a bulky envelope, which was left to gather dust for two full years – as part of the audience interaction at play here, Dora (the performer) asks an audience member in the front row to look after an oversized envelope while she prepares herself to face what its contents means for her future development.
To begin with a major factor in the show’s favour, and one too much of the arts neglects, there is a clear intention of accessibility at play. A BSL interpreter is present throughout, and the majority of the songs’ lyrics are displayed on a screen behind Colquhoun. Many of the songs themselves, written with composer Luke Thomas and collaborator Jonathan McGuire, are enjoyable and keep things moving along at a steady base – the more contemplative pieces later in the show are objectively better, but a Dolly Parton parody about being fired is a comedic highlight.
Where things become disjointed and lacking in cohesion – odd criticisms for a show about ADHD, I know! – are the diversions between genre and form, which come just a bit too often. There’s real power in the internal, thoughtful moments where Dora wrestles with her struggles to understand why she has behaved a certain way, or where someone else’s reaction to it stems from. These same moments of contemplation also show real promise from director and co-deviser Izzie Major, who tones down the excesses of the deliberately amateurish presentation to let the work speak for itself.
Unfortunately, choices aimed for bold jokes and big laughs have a habit of making the whole thing look less tightly planned than it obviously is. Colquhoun is a charismatic presence on stage, and brings a real dynamic energy to an enthusiastic opening number about faking that you’ve made it even when you haven’t come anywhere close. However, segues into celebrity impersonations (as funny as a fantasy appearance from Cher can be) and discussions about common signs of ADHD clash against the carefully crafted, deceptively tight underlying narrative.
Enjoyable in the moment and a clear crowd-pleaser, the cracks in ADHD The Musical’s façade show too easily when you look for them, as is sadly our duty as reviewers. I learned things and chuckled a fair few times throughout the 70 or so minutes I shared in Dora’s company, but even bringing an audience member up on stage with a genuinely funny joke about distance keeping the real life character from appearing couldn’t help me get past the stiltedness of it all. ADHD is important and clearly coming from a place of wonderful intentions, but the execution is unfortunately lacking.
ADHD The Musical: Can I Have Your Attention Please plays at Camden People’s Theatre until October 28th
For tickets and information visit https://cptheatre.co.uk/whatson/ADHD-the-Musical