Blog: Louise Wallwein

The writer reflects on a childhood in care on the stage

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Hello my name is Louise, I like reading, writing and dogs and climbing trees. And knock knock jokes.
I like the countryside.
I like babies.
I would like to go horse riding, canoeing and acting.
This picture is of me in Wales, I’m sat on a castle wall.
I like castles.

This was roughly the way the advert went when I was 12, in care, and looking for a foster family.

Rewind to 1969, I was put up for adoption by my birth mother. I was placed for adoption with a family in Wythenshawe, Manchester. Fast forward to the age of nine and my family imploded and I left home, never found a permanent family and spent the next 10 years or so in care – in around 13 different placements. I was jettisoned from the system and found a home of sorts in the world of theatre. I wrote my first play for Contact Theatre aged 17, about a girl searching for her mother, and now 30 years later I’m back at Contact about to perform Glue, my one-woman show, at Flying Solo in May.

Glue is about the first two meetings with my mother, after a 12-year search. The first meeting happened privately, the second meeting happened in a very public way. I am exploring how my fractured childhood of adoption and growing up in care shaped my identity.

As part of the play I read from the actual abridged version of my social services file – this is a really powerful experience for me. As I go through the file, and my childhood is reduced to a list of dates, I am actually remembering the bits in between – every time I was moved on from place to place with my belongings stuffed into bin bags, I am remembering that. The show demonstrates my childhood journey from vulnerability to resilience. Children are amazing in how they build resilience quickly – you have to.

It is like my life has been one big question: who am I? I was Odysseus, searching for himself through this long journey. Where is home, where is Ithaca? I have discovered that who I am is not who my mother is. In the show I explore the aftershock of meeting my mother. If you think the search for your birth family makes you ask questions, then wait until you meet them! It makes you question everything.

It’s a brilliant thing to find your people. However, I have learned that there will never be any straight answers. I still don’t know who my father is and have had to come terms with the possibility that I never will. Often, when you see or read work around adoption it’s about the meeting, I wanted to show the consequences of the last 15 years – both magical and devastating. I wanted to tell a real story, from a real experience that is also entertaining. When I perform this piece, the audience is my confidante, and at times it’s very funny. This quest dominated my life – who I have become because of it, and despite it. As an outsider to the traditional family, I am performance poet and storyteller, and this story is not just important to me. There are thousands like me and I wanted this piece to speak to others affected by adoption. The truth is, in the end, there are common themes for everyone to enjoy– I have been able to view family from a vantage point.

The response so far from audiences has been overwhelmingly positive. Wherever I perform it, there are always mothers who have had their children taken away or put up for adoption and care leavers. They always have questions and I hope this play helps to answer a few of them. Its feels like a beautiful completion of a journey artistically. There I was, 30 years ago, writing a play about a girl searching for her mother, and here I am now about to walk out on stage to tell you what happened when I did.

Louise Wallwein’s Glue is at Contact, 10&11 May, 7pm as part of the Flying Solo festival. For more details visit Glue was commissioned by Z-Arts, re-commissioned by hÅb for Domestic II. Supported by the Royal Exchange, Z-Arts and Contact

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