For the uninitiated, like me, Katie Piper is kind enough to provide a brief overview of the circumstances that led her to become an author and broadcaster. Acid attacks are, unpalatably, topical at the time of writing – a fortnight before this performance of Piper’s one-woman show, What’s In My Head?, a young lady in Brixton, south London, found herself the victim of a ‘suspected’ acid attack, and received hospital treatment for injuries sustained. Piper’s own experience, in March 2008, resulted in the perpetrators being handed down life sentences after she had sulphuric acid thrown in her face.
A recovery process with numerous setbacks lasting nine years provided ample opportunity for reflection, taking stock of life and deciding to rise above negativity in order to triumph over adversity. Piper’s injuries were particularly severe, such that a team of surgeons, led by Mohammad Ali Jawad, removed what remained of the skin of Piper’s face, and skin grafts were taken from her lower body and applied to her upper body. Piper knowingly quips that, as far as she is concerned, she quite literally “talks out of my own arse”.
It’s humour of this self-effacing nature that acts as something of a counterpoint to a self-congratulatory tone elsewhere in proceedings. “I have core confidence,” Piper beams, with the gleefulness of Julie Andrews’ Maria singing ‘I Have Confidence’ in the motion picture The Sound of Music. The closest thing to any dramatization comes in the form of videoclips, including one about the many supportive statements and poetic verses that line the walls of Piper’s WC at home. This is very much a stand-and-deliver storyline, though there are still photos and images to illustrate certain points being made. It is not, I hasten to add, death by PowerPoint.
As I say, nine years is a long recovery time from life-changing injuries that might have killed Piper, and thus the simple answer to ‘What’s in my head?’ is ‘Quite a lot!’ – some of this receptive audience could, judging by their reactions, have listened to someone who is, admittedly, a formidable (in an admirable sort of way) and inspiring person. Others, however, thought the show could have been considerably shorter: “Half an hour too long!” was one fellow theatregoer’s exit poll verdict.
For me, the law of diminishing returns seemed to occur around 10:00pm, and it was twenty more minutes before she finally took her bow. The longer Piper continued to speak about the importance of looking after oneself, what was an inspirational evening became rather laboured. This was not helped by the time spent carefully selected picking through submissions of ‘affirmations’ – declarations of positivity supplied by the audience during the interval – which brought what was a steady and assured stream to a trickle. I wished she had a little more trust in her audience and picked a few at random without filtering.
She will not, of course, spend much if any time pondering on what I, or anybody else, has to say. She has core confidence, y’see. A lot of her advice focuses on ignoring the negativity, the insults, the putdowns, and not worrying about – well, anything. What works for me works for me, and what works for someone else works for them. It did make me think of the exasperated maths teacher who, when pointing out that a pupil had solved an algebraic equation incorrectly, was told, “Thanks, but I like to do it my way.” Piper does, wisely, have caveats to her encouragements, acknowledging that there are situations where her chosen course of action in her own circumstances would not be appropriate.
This, then, is a (long) discussion of what some would consider first world problems by someone who is clearly grateful for the opportunity to smile and express herself each and every day. A warm and unpretentious manner made for a lovely and heartening evening.
Review by Chris Omaweng
In a time of glossy magazines, Photoshop, Instagram filters and app dating, remaining in touch with reality has never been harder. Katie embarks on her debut theatre tour to share what she has learnt and what helped her remain positive through the toughest of times. She will discuss her own battles with anxiety and explain how she has overcome its crippling clutches. Katie is opening her own diaries, photo albums and personal memories in this most intimate and revealing talk about her life.
Insecurities exist in us all and adversity in life is unavoidable, but how can it be managed? How can we find the light in the darkest of times? Katie believes no matter how big or small your challenges might seem, there is always a confident way forward and she will share with you how this might work for you.
This is her perspective, this is her life, this is her wisdom. This is ‘What’s in My Head’.