Tag Archives: Pamela Neil

We have to talk about adoption – Feedback from the Bristol Performance



The first performance took place on 28th September at the Arnolfini in Bristol and the second will be taking place in London on 28th October 2017 – see here for further details and how to register for tickets. 

I have written before about the process of preparing for the performance and want to take some time to consider the feedback from the Arnolfini – did we meet our objectives of ‘having an intimate conversation’ with the audience, did we succeed in showing the audience another perspective on an area they might not have thought much about before? Were we able to empower others to take this conversation into other areas of their lives and to continue this very necessary discussion?



My feedback

I wanted to ask the following questions – because I don’t know the answers and I don’t think we are collectively having open and honest discussions about these issues:

  • Can we make happy families?
  • Can we impose identity on a child?
  • Do we need to ‘rescue’ children or should we be trying to support unhappy families?
  • What is really at the heart of our child protection system and adoption and why aren’t we talking about this?

I was surprised how nervous I felt during the dress rehearsal – it was the first time using the actual space where the performance would take place.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by how that anxiety diminished once the audience were actually there and even more pleasantly surprised by how the conversation developed afterwards.

Now, instead of dreading the London performance, I am in fact looking forward to it and to have a further arena for discussions. Because, and rather obviously, we will never get answers to questions if we don’t ask them.



Pamela Neil on stage during dress rehearsal

Feedback from others

After the performance, Pamela Neil,the artist I collaborated with to create the performance, contacted those who had attended for feedback. We are very grateful for all the thoughtful comments and will give some thought to how best to respond and incorporate any changes into the London performance.

The following are some of questions posed and the text in bold are some of the responses.

  1. What did you enjoy? the chance to hear some familiar concepts developed at a pace that i could absorb differently to their normal context (when sarah and I are cross and ranting to one another about the situation)
  2. Are your ideas about adoption different now, following the performance? actually yes, pushed slightly further along the spectrum than i was from enthusiastic to worried
  3. Has the performance inspired you to engage with the problem discussed? yes. i am already engaged with it, as i suspect were most of the audience, but it was helpful to look at things from a new angle. I found the analogies helpful.
  4. If you could suggest one change to enhance future performances, what would it be? to let the audience know what was expected in terms of questions and participation at the end. I think only those who knew sarah felt empowered to participate. I don’t know how you could better manage that and the fact that some were quite pushy in terms of ensuring that the conversation is with new people not just those who are already part of it – other than by explicit invitation.

One attendee echoed that last concern about how people can be empowered to join in the conversations:

I was hoping for a conversation about the possibility of co-parenting and whether FDACs were a good model to follow but the after-show conversation felt exclusive and I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know who was speaking, what the issues were, nor the previous history between Sarah and the speakers, although I could feel the tension. I think it would have been helpful if speakers had been invited to introduce themselves and the organisations they were representing. I was watching people’s body language during the performance and saw lots of discomfort – I hoped social workers, if there were any there, would speak out at the end and perhaps they did but I left when I felt it was a private conversation that was re-hashing old arguments rather than discussing a way forward.

We clearly need to give some thought as to how to avoid any impression that what is happening is a ‘private conversation’ – this may be an inevitable consequence of holding the first event in Bristol where the audience were more likely to know me. Hopefully a London audience can be more diverse and conversations can be less about historic tensions and more about fresh perspectives.

However, this commentator did find the performance valuable:

There was lots of food for thought and I wanted to thank Sarah; it is good to hear other perspectives – our focus can become too narrow. I hope it will encourage the different systems to work together more closely and explore alternative ways of looking after children perhaps based on evidence from other countries.

I hope that the conversations can continue in London on October 28th.


The conversations we need to have about adoption – London performance.

From Bristol to London  –  28th October 2017







Performing, Truth and Talking

On 23rd September 2017 at the Arnolfini in Bristol I will be performing for the very first time a unique ‘ oral performance installation’ that doesn’t involve dry law lectures or angry ranting on Twitter. Neither activity has done much to promote wider and better conversations about the child protection system.

To my sorrow the recent furore over The Times reporting about the Christian child and the Muslim foster carers demonstrates just how dry the well of public debate has become about such important issues.

I am really pleased to say we now have a full house for the performance on on September 23rd – and I am even more pleased to note the majority are NOT my friends or family so presumably they are drawn to the subject matter itself and think that this is worth an hour or two of their lives.

We are also performing the same piece in London on 28th October at The Depot on Upper Clapton Road – again, its free to come but you will need to register for tickets. Please scroll to the end of this post to find all the links for tickets etc.

We have to talk

As I wrote in my first blog about this the aim of the performance was to explore with artist Pamela Neil how we communicate some of the thought and ideas I have around adoption, to reach a wider group of people and starting conversations I think we should be having.

Attempts to broaden debate and understanding often falter because when the debate pushes so many emotional buttons, attempts to make a particular argument often seem to end up being a barrier to communication rather than opening a door to greater understanding and awareness – its not so much the FACTS that win hearts and minds but the FEELINGS they create.
Is it possible therefore to come at this from another angle? Not the dry legal approach which has informed my training and professional life – but trying to shine a light on the issues in another way?
One of the most important benefits of any performance or work of art must be how powerfully complex thoughts and ideas can be communicated to an audience; straight to the heart, rather than draining our interest in a dull legal lecture and PowerPoint.

When I wrote that back in June I had simply no idea how this would work or what I would have to do. I came into the exercise without any preconceptions about what was needed from me. That has proved both a blessing and problem. I simply had no idea just how hard it was to find the story I wanted to tell: to share the thoughts and ideas that were important to me with others, in a way that that provided access to the audience.

I had to free myself from assumptions that OF COURSE my listener understood what I was saying. While I am comfortable with writing, I was naive about what it meant to share thoughts and ideas in an oral form.

Its been a long and hard process – first drawing out what I wanted to say, then turning that into a form of expression that could be communicated orally in a way to engage an audience of people who may not be familiar with the topic.

I think we have now identified what it is I want to say. We now move onto the next phase, finding a way to say it that both works for me and engages the audience, giving them access to my thoughts and ideas, but on their terms.

A frankly terrifying prospect.

Pamela has born this process with remarkable patience, explaining that I can never assume that others know or understand what I am saying – I need to take her by the hand and walk her over to where I want her to stand so she can see what it is that I see. If I am advocating for a change in the way we view adoption by having open, honest and transparent conversations, I need to show her what an open and honest conversation looks like and what changes it can bring.

She has explained that we are creating a unique oral art installation – not a lecture or a speech.

I hope that come September 23rd Pamela and I will have created something that is worth hearing, something that will leave the audience with no doubt that we have to talk.

But whatever happens at either performance, good, bad or indifferent, I know that this has been a profoundly useful process for me and explained a lot about why it is so difficult to communicate, to make others see what you want them to see.

We tend not to take people by the hand either metaphorically or literally. We talk AT them, we talk OVER them we talk ABOUT them. Nobody ever changed their mind by being patronised, belittled or shouted at. It’s easy to forget that each member of an audience will have a different view about what they hear, and therefore what they take away.

We urgently need to start talking about the things that matter and I hope this is going to be a good starting point that may plant some seeds for change in the minds of the audience.

Everything planted is likely to grow.


WHEN              28th October 2017 6.30 – 8.30
WHERE            The Depot, Upper Clapton Street London E5 8BQ
HOW                 Register for tickets here at Eventbrite
MORE INFO?   Download brochure here