Our guest speaker this month at Pontardawe Script Cafe was Louise Osborn, writer and director of stage, TV and film drama. In work-shopping Rose Wattley's play,'Identity', she focused on how to use emotion dramatically without falling into melodrama. Rose's play is autobiographical, and focuses on the moment when at the age of 13 she is told by the man she has always regarded as her father, that she is adopted.
It is hard to imagine the extent of the shock and confusion that Rose felt that day in the allotment. It was March 1945 and the war was coming to an end. She was told that the person she had thought of as an aunt throughout her childhood was in fact her mother. It was never spoken about again but her relationship with her adoptive mother deteriorated. At the age of 16 she went to live with her birth mother but it didn't work out.
There is a current ITV series, 'Long Lost Families', introduced by Davina MacCall, that explores the experience and helps bring together families split by adoption. Last night the programme explored the story of twins, who were born out of wedlock and adopted separately as babies. One found out through the taunts of a childhood friend that her parents weren't her birth parents. Her aunt who lived a few doors down would bring her knitting each evening and watch TV with her and 'parents'. It turned out that the aunt was her mother and her parents were in fact her grandparents. She was told that she had a sister and in her sixties she tried to trace her. The other twin had no idea that she had a sister, let alone a twin, until she was approached by the researchers on the programme. They had been living for over half a century within three miles of each other.
In my work as a counsellor I have heard many moving stories about people's experience of adoption. One client was sent away to a convent in Ireland to have her baby and had to give up a son to a Catholic priest who arranged the adoption. She went on to get married and had two daughters, but she always hoped that one day she would be reunited with her son. When her daughters were in their twenties she set about looking for him. Since having a child himself he had also been searching for his mother. There was a gradual process of communication through the Catholic Adoption Society; letters, emails, telephone calls and at last after what seemed eternity, the first meeting. She described it like 'falling in love'. They couldn't wait to see each other again but the rest of the family weren't so ecstatic. The joy of their reunion was overshadowed by sadness and disappointment. The daughters were jealous of their half brother and refused to get involved. My client had a vivid tattoo painted on her back of castles and dragons that metaphorically charted her journey to find her son. At each session she would throw off her shirt and show me the new developments.
One of my clients was adopted and then at the age of twenty had a child herself that she had to give up for adoption. She was able to send her a birthday card and Christmas card every year but not see her until she was 16. That meeting was momentous for my client. But afterwards her child wasn't interested in pursuing a relationship with her. My client was left bereft.
It is always risky to put your play up for scrutiny at Script Cafe. Even more so when it's also your own real life story. Louise Osborn dealt with the issues in Rose's play with great sensitivity and at the same time gave us all plenty of guidance in how to use emotion authentically and dramatically in writing for the theatre.