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Analysing Adult Child Dead Child English Literature Essay

On Wednesday 17th March, my group performed the play “Adult Child/Dead Child” which was written by Claire Dowie (option 2: an acting piece); the style of the play is physical theatre. “Adult Child/Dead Child” explores many themes and issues such as: child abuse (negligence), isolation and mental illness (schizophrenia). The play is set in contemporary time, over a course of a couple of years, as the play follows the life of the unnamed main character. The play is set in England; however, even the beginning location is unspecified, it is later revealed that the family in “Adult Child/Dead Child” move to London, where the rest of the play takes place.

In brief, “Adult Child/Dead Child” is about a person suffering from schizophrenia; the beginning of the play portrays the main character (who is nameless, and does not have a specified gender) as a young child, who tells the audience about their isolation and their lack of love, how they feel ignored by their parents in favour of their perfect angelic sister. The child often recounts in fear how they would be punished by being locked in a cupboard. As the child grows up, an alter ego emerges by the name of Benji, as a result of the main character’s schizophrenia. ‘Benji’ causes the child to badly misbehave, ‘her’ actions gradually becoming more sinister, climaxing with the main character hitting their father around the head with a hammer. The child is now an adolescent, and is hospitalised, only being visited once by their family. They then move into a hostel, where they make friends, then move out into a flat of their own, whilst battling ‘Benji’. The play concludes with a visibly much happier “child”; however, the child is now all grown up. The main character has defeated “Benji’s” haunting presence, and buys a dog. The dog is named Lady (named after the only adult who ever showed the “child” love), and together the now grown-up child lives in harmony with their dog. The play was first performed on the 5th June 1987 at Finborough Theatre Club, London; the play was originally performed as stand-up theatre (only one actor performs the piece) and was (and still is) non gender specific.

In “Adult Child/Dead Child” I played several roles: as the “child”, as Benji, as the “child’s” perfect sister, as the “child’s” mother, and as part of an ensemble playing the “child’s” turmoil. As the style of the play is physical theatre, my group researched physical theatre on the Internet, so as to make sure that we could incorporate physical theatre into our play as much as possible. We also had lots of substantial input from our drama teachers.

I am comparing “Adult Child/Dead Child” with a play called “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou, written in 1978. “Still I Rise” can be interpreted in two different ways: one is about the subjugation of black people, and it talks about how even though their race has, and still is repeatedly being exposed to terrible acts of racism and prejudice, still their race will stand proud. The other is that the poem is talking about women’s rights, and how eventually, woman will triumph in their quest for equality. The themes and issues of “Still I Rise” include self-respect, perseverance and defiance; the style of the poem is metaphorical. Maya Angelou was born on the 4th April 1928, and throughout her life has written several poems and autobiographies; all of Angelou’s publications have the running theme of racism.

In “Adult Child/Dead Child” there are several characters: the “child”, the child’s family (mother, father and sister), a teacher called Mr. Kent, a hostel worker called Peter, and of course, the “child’s” alter-ego Benji. The people in “Adult Child/Dead Child” are of varying age ranges, as throughout the play, we see the child transition from troubled child to content adult. The other characters in the play do not have a specified age, however it is not implied that any of the characters are elderly. Generally, as the characters in “Adult Child/Dead Child” are able to afford moving to London and buying an apartment there (as described in the play by the child, in which they express their uncertainty at moving to a new place) it is implied that the characters are not poor; so they could be ranked as middle class. The relationships that intertwine these characters are that of being family and friends. The relationship between the child and Benji is strikingly obvious – they are the same person. In “Still I Rise”, it can be assumed that the group of people who the poem is on behalf of are of all ages. As “Still I Rise” could be about black people and their struggle out of slavery and into equality, the people in the poem are most likely relatively poor and of a working-class background (as the poem is describing the period where black people were struggling for human rights). The relationships between the people in “Still I Rise” is built on their skin colour. If “Still I Rise” was being interpreted as being about women, then again all the women would be united by their gender and low status, whilst their ages would vary.

Already, we can see similarities between “Adult Child/Dead Child” and “Still I Rise”. Both pieces purposefully exclude any explicit information about age and social status (excluding the case of the child in the play, as their ages are recorded). This is so as to unite the characters into one “body”; in “Adult Child/Dead Child”, by not including much information about the background characters, they are portrayed as being one force, one unit, thereby attracting less attention towards themselves and more attention towards the child. In “Still I Rise”, there is an opposite effect: instead of attracting less attention (as in the case of the play), in the poem, more attention is paid to the described people and their plight. Also, all the characters in both pieces are united together by strong bonds of blood, friendship, gender and skin colour. However, there is also a difference between the two: whereas in “Adult Child/Dead Child” the characters are of middle-class status, in “Still I Rise”, the people are working-class. This succeeds in highlighting the difficulties faced by black people several years ago, and how they were extremely disadvantaged by their skin colour and economic position in a time of severe prejudice and discrimination.

Although no explicit reference is made about religion in “Adult Child/Dead Child”, we can most likely assume that the characters are Christian. The nationality of the characters can again most likely be English as there is nothing in the play suggesting otherwise. These traits did not particularly affect our portrayal of the play, as the culture of the characters is not particularly mentioned in the play. In “Still I Rise” however, culture plays a much larger role. As the people described are black, their nationality is most likely African-American, whilst their religion would be Christian. Even if the poem was about women, their nationality and religion would still be the same. Obviously, nationality is a fundamental element in the poem; without the issue of the ethnicity of the people described in the poem, there would have been no reason to write it. Therefore, the people in the poem are severely affected by their nationality, as it automatically changes people’s perceptions about them, and makes them want to be negative towards them “You may shoot me with you words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness” this extract shows the type of behaviour black people/black women had to endure from other people. Even though all the characters in both pieces share their Christian faith, they differ greatly. In “Adult Child/Dead Child” the characters are white and English, and face no prejudice; in “Still I Rise” the people are black and African-American, and are constantly discriminated against.

“Adult Child/Dead Child” is presumably set in contemporary time in England (specifically London later on in the play). In 1908, a scientist named Eugen Bleuler coined the term “schizophrenia” to describe the separation of function between personality, thinking, memory and perception. This “discovery” of the mental illness significantly has an impact on the theme of isolation in the play. If schizophrenia had not been officiated back in 1908, then maybe the child would not felt as if they were being forced to move out of their home and be hospitalised and made to see a psychiatrist. However, as the illness was indeed discovered and it is revealed that the child has it, a further wedge is made between them and their family “I sat in my bedsit, sat in my bedsit, and slowly, went mad in my bedsit”. This extract describes how alone the child was, and how this isolation slowly started to drive the child insane. “Still I Rise” was written and published in 1978 and was set in the United States of America (where the poet was born and lived her life). Historically, the USA was probably the worst country in terms of racism; black people were persecuted, treated horribly due to their colour, and often lost out to white people in terms of right and benefits. This harsh treatment of black people in the USA most definitely had a huge impact on Maya Angelou, and inspired her to write the poem. “Up from a past that's rooted in pain, I rise, I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, welling and swelling I bear in the tide, leaving behind nights of terror and fear”. This extract shows that despite the difficulties faced by black people because of their colour, they are still determined to “rise again” and fight for their human rights. Note the phrase “Up from a past that's rooted in pain”; this is referring to the past of the USA, and how it is marred by its well publicised racism/discrimination towards black people. Angelou is saying that despite her and her country’s past of being “rooted in pain” she will still rise above it and gain equality.

The style of “Adult Child/Dead Child” was physical theatre. Many moments in our play conveyed this style across to the audience; a specific example would be in the scene where the child first mentions the dreaded cupboard. As punishment, the child would often be locked in a cupboard of some sort by their parents; the child hated this cupboard, most likely because it was dark and small. The cupboard serves as a metaphor for the child’s isolation, and how they are cut off from the rest of their family unit by this cupboard. “And the cupboard, the cupboard under the stairs…there was the cupboard, the cupboard under the stairs, dark, silent, claustrophobic”. As the child was saying these lines, the rest of the group would actually serve to use out bodies to make the cupboard: two people would be kneeling down (side on to the audience) and each would be holding out horizontally in front of them a long white pole. Next, there would be two people (also side on to the audience) opposite to the two kneeling people. Each one would hold the other end of the pole; this would result in their being two sloping white poles, hence representing the “triangle” shape of a cupboard underneath the stairs. The child would be sitting underneath this cupboard (facing the audience), whilst the remaining two actors would be standing (also facing the audience) behind the child, and next to the people at the back of the cupboard (one kneeling, one standing). This is a perfect example of us incorporating physical theatre into our piece to bring inanimate objects to life, thereby magnifying the child’s terror.

The style of “Still I Rise” is a metaphorical poem “That I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” Using the jewel analogy, Angelou is referring to herself as a woman, a human woman who is no different than other woman just because of her skin colour. “You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise” this extract again, is using a metaphor. Dust is almost always found on the ground, for it has been trodden on, completely disregarded, and is regarded as filth, always being cleared up. Angelou is trying to say that she refuses to be treated in the same disrespectful way as dust, and that she will “rise” and redeem herself. Both pieces have similarities, as they both contains metaphors. In “Adult Child/Dead Child”, the cupboard is a metaphor for the child’s imprisonment by their schizophrenia, and their isolation from their family and peers, whilst in “Still I Rise” metaphors are used to describe how black people intent to equalise themselves with white people. However, there are differences; in “Adult Child/Dead Child” the cupboard metaphor has negative connotations to it, as the cupboard is reflective of the child’s loneliness and fear. “Still I Rise” is very different, as the metaphors in the poem are positive, as they are about change, and how black people are getting braver, more courageous, and more determined to fight racism.

To conclude, I have learnt a lot of things throughout my time preparing and performing “Adult Child/Dead Child”. Firstly, I have learnt how amazing physical theatre is, and how to use it more often; I believe that by performing a piece in the style of physical theatre, it has greatly helped expand the way I think in terms of creativity, and hopefully has encouraged me to think more originally and “out of the box”, helping me think of new ideas rather than sticking with the same old safer choices. Also, I have once again learned that working in a team is by far the most efficient and progressive way to get things done; by having a multitude of ideas, and combining different types of thinking into one idea will always produce amazing results. As an actress, I believe that my line-learning skills have greatly improved – there really is nothing better than just practicing reading the lines over and over again; as a group, we all tried learning our lines early on in the rehearsal process, and found that this greatly relieved pressure, as well as leaving us with a much longer amount of time to perfect our play and do any fine tuning. Also, by reading the script of this play, I feel that I know more about schizophrenia; it is not just the illness in which people hear voices in their head and go crazy, but it is a lifelong condition where people feel isolated, neglected, saddened, and feel guilty when they unwillingly cause pain to those around them.

Comparing this play with “Still I Rise” has helped me analyse our play into much more depth and detail, and has helped me realise how much in common the two pieces have together, such as the vagueness of detail (which succeed in unifying the characters as a single body, drawing attention to the themes and issues explored in both pieces), and the torment faced by the characters. I have also learnt about the differences, such as whilst the child is schizophrenic and is fighting their own inner demons, the black people of the USA in 1978 where fighting a much more violent battle; one for the right of being acknowledged as a human being. Hopefully, in comparing and contrasting these two pieces, I am that bit more wiser, and have learnt much more about the racism endured by the black people in America; this new found knowledge will greatly benefit me in years to come, and I am glad that through comparing “Adult Child/Dead Child” and “Still I Rise” I am a more experienced actress and a more enlightened person.

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