THE RECENT success of the movie Philomena highlighted the social and personal impact of adoption in Irish society in times past. This weekend, in the Mick Lally Theatre, Druid Lane, actor and playwright Noelle Brown’s play, Postscript, visits the same topic through the story of her own life.
Brown was adopted at eight weeks of age in Cork in the sixties. Telling her story in a very humorous way the play describes what it was like growing up as an adopted child in the seventies and the challenges she faced as an adult when she set out to find out about her birth parents.
The play is performed by Noelle Brown and Bríd Ní Neachtain and was first performed in Dublin last year, when The Irish Times described it as “a moving story stoically enacted by Brown and Bríd Ní Neachtain, who beautifully brings to life the letters that form the linchpin of Browne’s journey...powerful piece of work”.
Ahead of Postscript’s Galway visit, Brown took some time to talk about the play and I began by asking when she first knew she was adopted.
“I was always told, from as soon as I could understand, that I was adopted and that was great because there wasn’t really a climate at that time where it was talked about,” she replies. “I remember being at school with a girl who I knew was adopted but she wasn’t told until her 21st birthday and she didn’t take it very well. But my parents were very good like that, they made the decision to tell me early on. I think it’s really important that it is something you always know.
“I have two brothers, who weren’t adopted, they are much older than I am,” Brown continues, describing her adoptive family. “I stood out in the family. If they hadn’t told me I was adopted I’d have been wondering anyway; my parents and brothers are dark-skinned and I’m very fair-skinned - red-haired and freckled, the whole lot! So I always had a sense of physically being different.
“There were times, especially in my teens, when I looked around and thought ‘I don’t look like anyone in the family’. I did have a happy childhood so I didn’t think too much about tracing my birth-mother until I was 35. If I’d had children I might have looked sooner.”
It was a casual meeting that triggered Brown’s quest; “I had coffee with a guy whose friend had traced their birth family and something just happened during that conversation,” she recalls. “I went home and made that first call to Barnardo’s. I was very nervous as to what I would find but I felt it was the right time, I was at a point in my life where I could deal with it.
“It turned out to be a much more complex experience emotionally than I anticipated. I’m very glad I did it but it was a difficult time. I started off looking for my basic adoption files, which don’t contain a lot of information but that is all I was ready for at the time.
“I rang the number Barnardo’s gave me and no-one got back to me for ages and eventually this nun spoke to me and said I couldn’t see the files, that was after three months. Then Barnardo’s took over and told the nun she had no right to do that. So after that I got a lot of information, more than I had bargained for. It was an exciting process but also a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.
“They advise you to pursue the whole process via letters which I did and that forms the basis of the play. You have to go at the pace that suits you, it’s tricky. Each time I wrote or received a letter I would take a step back to deal with it and then move on. It’s hard for people outside of it to understand how slowly you need to go. Each piece of information that is revealed to you is huge, you have to take it on board and process it.”
Brown co-wrote Postscript with Michele Forbes.
“My first idea was on the theme of post and letters and letters that get lost or whatever,” Brown reveals, “but as we were working on that the adoption thing kept coming up and Michele and Louisa Carroll, who was also contributing, insisted that I needed to write that story so finally we did. Michele wrote the character of Auntie Pattie (played by Ní Neachtain ) who is extraordinarily funny. I actually do have an Auntie Pattie but the character in the play is largely fictional. Everything that happens in the play is based on fact but as well as being about the serious issue of adoption it is also very funny which people don’t quite expect.”
Postscript is at The Mick Lally Theatre, Druid Lane, tomorrow and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are €15/12 and available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie