Adam Walsh – no – Adam Welsh is an actor. An actor who found that when he Googles himself, the top result is a six-year-old who was murdered in 1981 in LA. It may seem to be a tenuous link, and consequently a tenuous premise to an hour long, one-man show, but Welsh’s thorough, thoughtful approach means that what seems strange, soon starts to feel like an important connection.
Throughout There But For The Grace Of God (Go I), Welsh threads the true and tragic story of that young boy with his own true and somewhat less tragic story. Two people who at first seem only united by a name – albeit divided by a vowel – gradually become closer as Welsh dives into his own childhood memories.
The Sliding Doors element to the show isn’t obvious at first and Welsh’s almost chaotic approach to structure makes you wonder where this monologue is going, but it soon falls into something more deliberate.
This man knows how to deliver an emotional blow. There is a lot of humour; so much so that you start to think this is a simple dark comedy. But by restructuring timelines, or calmly laying out the chronology before our very eyes, Welsh layers narratives and creates a wave of emotion in you, a tightening in the chest, a tear pricking in the eye, that you almost don’t see coming.
Welsh is a dynamic performer, and that is the key to the piece. He can play with the structure, and incorporate film – and even Lego – because his skill matches his ambition. He begins as a child, playing computer games, using children’s toys. Later, he takes on the voices of both of his parents, mimicking them, and mouthing along when he plays real film footage of the pair on the screen – a beautiful moving canvas of strands that he often darts in and out of – that forms the backdrop of the stage. He even takes on the voice of six-year-old Adam’s mother, Reve, repeating the imagined lines that she utters in the film “Adam” that was made in 1983 about the little boy’s disappearance and murder.
This work is about Adam Welsh. It may begin with Adam Walsh, this “online presence” in our protagonist’s life, but the real ghost that hits you in the chest hints to the pain in his own life. It gradually becomes clear that this is about his parents, notably his relationship with his father in the first eight years of his life.
There But For The Grace Of God (Go I) has a subtle burning sadness, that reveals a wonderful talent in Adam Welsh, and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming in its beautifully raw denouement.
There But For The Grace Of God (Go I) played at the Soho Theatre until 8 August. For more information, click here.
Photo: Soho Theatre website