Preview: Wild

A new show for children and families highlights the misconceptions about ADHD – but without being dull or preachy, writes Richard Smirke

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“Theatre holds a mirror to the world and shines a light on parts of society that we don’t always see or hear about,” proclaims award-winning playwright Evan Placey. It’s an often repeated assessment that can be said to apply to a vast number of plays, not least the Canadian-British writer’s latest work, which explores the subject of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, more commonly known as ADHD.

“I feel like we don’t have the same kind of hold or knowledge around ADHD that we do with autism or other conditions,” elaborates Placey. “A lot of people don’t understand what it means to be a child with ADHD. How they see the world. Their experiences and what it feels likes when things are constantly overlapping, distracting and frustrating you. It felt like fertile territory for a story.”

Inspired by his own personal experiences of working with young people with ADHD, Placey set out to write a drama that would enlighten and, just as importantly, entertain audiences of all ages from eight upwards. The result is Wild, a new one-person show from Leeds children’s theatre company Tutti Frutti that tells the story of 10-year-old Billy and his rarely portrayed world view (both real and imagined) in a fun, uplifting and easily accessible way.

Starring actor Rhys Warrington in the lead role and featuring a live music score performed by Molly Lopresti, complemented by digital projections, early reviews have praised the play’s thought-provoking narrative and flawless presentation, with Warrington’s convincingly childlike performance singled out for lavish praise.

“It’s a very moving story and you can’t help but like and feel for Billy,” says director Wendy Harris, who stresses that while there is a positive message at the heart of the piece, it’s not a dull or preachy production. “I want to tell stories that are meaningful for children and that are about their lives, but we don’t wrap it all up neatly in a bow for them. They need to make up their own minds about the issues raised.”

In devising Wild, Placey and Tutti Frutti worked with Professor David Daley at Nottingham University to draw on the latest research into neuro-developmental disorders such as ADHD and Tourettes. The process, which involved speaking to patient groups, fed directly into the play and reaffirmed the importance of highlighting the difficulties that children with ADHD and their families experience, as well as breaking some of the misconceptions that surround the condition.

“There are an awful lot of children and parents who perhaps don’t know enough about ADHD to recognise it, or are in denial. I think there are an awful lot of unhappy children who are just being treated as naughty kids,” explains Harris, citing research that suggests one in 10 children in the UK is likely to have ADHD.

“There’s still a lot of people that say ADHD isn’t a thing – it’s just kids misbehaving,” laments Placey. He believes that while primary schools are gradually becoming more accommodating of children with autism, more needs to be done when it comes to ADHD. “We need to better understand that what we’re asking of a child may sound simple – just sit there quietly – but is an impossible task. Our understanding has come along, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Wild is at Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, 28 May and York Theatre Royal, 15-18 June, then touring venues including in Halifax, Southport, Hebden Bridge.

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