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Review: Katie's Birthday Party at the John Bishop Room, Adelaide Festival Centre

By Lia Cocks

Bringing my nearly 11 year old son, who has just moved schools and is making new friends, to a one woman show about the trials and tribulations of a young girls journey from childhood to adolescence, seemed very timely and opportune.

I remember my twelve year old self as slightly sensitive, hopeful, emotional and enthusiastic and I suspect, after a few personal conversations with my own pre-pubescent son, he feels the same.

Internationally acclaimed solo performer, Mary-Frances Doherty gives a remarkable and real performance of 12 year old Katie, who is very happy we all could attend her birthday party. She is disappointed her best friend, Tracy, couldn’t come - she was busy making an appearance at another party.

To begin with, Katie is very flippant about Tracy not being able to be there, but by the end, she is openly and visibly upset; the least she could do was answer her calls, like her posts or share her videos!

In a vulnerable, exposed and intimate horseshoe setting, we are thrown together to celebrate Katie’s birthday, and as the birthday girl, she chooses the party games. We begin by taking selfies, followed by a game of Truth or Dare (I was dared to pick my nose and eat it without using my hands - my son was mortified!) and finishing off with a Harlem Shake.

It was extremely interesting to see how people reacted to this forced volunteer scenario. Eyes darting across the room to see what others are doing, saying, behaving - much like the first day of high school - uncomfortable and awkward and not wanting to stick out.

I loved that Doherty didn't play Katie with the child-like voice and mannerisms that most adult actors do when portraying children, instead giving her a real naive worldliness that most 12 year olds possess.

Katie tells us how much she loves Zac Efron, hasn’t kissed a boy, demonstrates how she says ‘chubby bunny’ while stuffing marshmallows in her mouth (she can fit 8 by the way), and how she dislikes homework, her new school and her thighs.

The most personal and confronting moment occurs when she asks us, individually, to promise not to laugh or tell anyone, about her most embarrassing story.

I did not anticipate the conclusion of this story, in fact not one audience member did. As we all sat in silent sympathy, disbelief and heavy heartedness.

After her stunning explosion regarding Tracy, she throws a bowl of party poppers everywhere only to sheepishly crawl around picking up her mess. It was this moment my son turned to me and said ‘mum, should we help her clean up?’ I smiled, and we scurried to pick up the mess.

Before we sing happy birthday and share in cake, Katie tells us she has discovered seven ways to be happy - laugh, smile, spend time with friends, talk to someone like her mum or teacher, be active, sing and write things down in her diary.

Perfectly good tips for 11 year old boys, almost middle aged women and anyone in between.

I honestly came into Katie’s Birthday Party with no expectations and I’m glad I did. It was a real, raw and relatable production that every adolescent should see to feel warranted, and every adult should see for nostalgia.

Loved it!

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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