Last week Catch 22 became the first touring show to feature at The Old Electric, Claire reviews artist Katie O’Brien’s personal journey of recovery.
Stories of addiction are highly stigmatised in popular press and mass media, but what of the personal stories that we never really get to hear?
We mostly see addiction through harrowing tales of dehumanization focusing on ‘problem’ places and people. Katie O’Briens Catch 22 dug deep into her own experiences of addiction, teetering on the edge of childhood; that age where we think we know it all and we are indestructable.
Welcome to the party
The Old Electric never looked so busy as we entered a bustling cafe area where folks chatted and drank soft drinks. The atmosphere was excitable following a queue out of the door. Unsure of what was in store, I followed the crowds as we assembled in the amphitheatre type space, that once was Club Sanuk and Main Street. There was someone new in the crowd as we descended the stairs to arrive for the performance, I noted a red sofa, a mic, something laid on the floor, and a female dressed in a glitzy outfit handing a birthday cake to someone.
The glitzy glad-ragged women turned out to be Katie the performer, excitingly welcoming the audience and asking if anyone wanted drinks – soft of course. The free drinks of Fanta and other popular brands continued to be handed out as Katie whipped the audience into a giggly frenetic mass, turned out it was Katies birthday and we were at her celebration. What followed was a series of highs and lows, just what you might expect if you had indeed taken some ‘party’ drugs of an evening somewhere in your youth. When all you wanted was to feel part of something, feel accepted, have a “laugh” or maybe even forget, unclear to the consequences or naively deciding that addiction would not take hold.
Katie’s story was one that perhaps is not often told, folks in recovery or experiencing addiction might prefer to keep those quips hidden. I thought about mass media and the unhelpful stigmatisation of addiction portrayed as ‘bad’ places and people. The thing is though, if you have known someone whose story is one of addiction its much more complex, a layered experience affecting not just the addict but also friends and family who witness you spiralling through many levels of despair unable to help. Only the person whose pain has enveloped them can decide to find a way back.
Katie’s introduction of being at a party somewhere in her late teens is all fun and games, to begin with. It feels like we are witnessing Katie as a young girl, perhaps early teens, she repeats “teen” lingo and continues to jest with the audience until darker themes associated with addiction and drug-taking are introduced.
A reflective voice of concern echoes across the theatre, a disembodied voice that might have been her mother or grandmother. The voice described witnessing Katies drug use unable to help but trusting that there was always hope whilst she was still alive, Katie mouthed the words back at the audience before snapping back into performance party mode.
More laughs and giggles ensued and questions were asked of the audience, invitations to join in, have some cake, discussions around love, paranoia from drug-taking, failed relationships, and Jungle music featured. An audience member was pulled into a passionate dance as Katie discussed the need to find love or connection something to fill the gap when she had become clean.
Q&A with the artist
The after-show Q&A session explored a moment of clarity to become sober after sharing a joint in a London club at a super young age and realising that no one would make her accountable. She could literally carry on the way she wanted. The thought that no one would stop her is terrifying because with addiction literally no one will stop you.
I remember somewhere around 1988 a new music culture was becoming very popular, it was underground and introduced a new drug called ecstasy. Thousands of working-class kids across the country and the North began to experiment. The feeling of togetherness alongside a new music culture felt revolutionary, around five years later the film Trainspotting was super popular, a depiction of heroin addiction, soundtracked by Iggy Pop and Blur.
I think back on these times as young folks began to experiment and drugs became more widely available. It started casually for those who dabbled, no one wants to be an addict and have their whole life consumed.
Katie O’Briens Catch 22 questions the complexity of being a human being from a personal viewpoint: taking the audience on a roller coaster of wrong turns, impactful choices, and observations on addiction as perhaps a symptom of modern life. For me, it is a play that communicates loss, humour and strength around addiction. I think it was Johann Hari who said “The opposite of addiction is connection”.
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