A Conversation with Philippa Dawson
Updated: Aug 4
Philippa Dawson (’14) has pioneered a solo show set to play at the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. The show, Character Flaw, is equal parts humorous and endearing as it tenderly explores the sometimes-taboo subjects of neurodivergence and sexuality.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You have a show set to play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. Tell me about this.
It’s called Character Flaw, a solo show, a comedy, and all about ADHD. I have ADHD, and the show follows my life, sort of unpacking the diagnosis and trying to understand what the symptoms are, what they mean, and look like in life. A symptom might be someone who might be forgetful, and then in the show, I’m trying to show what that means. And so I do that by telling stories, by unpacking lots of areas like myself, my identity. I look at medication and how that affected me. By the end of it, it's trying to find a way of accepting that diagnosis is my life. That it’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just me.
The show also explores sexuality, if I’m not mistaken. Is there an element of politics in what you do?
Yeah, yeah, completely. It all comes out in the work that I do, even if it's not there…something queer doesn't always have to talk about being gay. It's just about my life and my story. It’s really important just in the same way that talking about ADHD is important in it because both of those things I didn't know or didn't acknowledge for most of my life.
So there was a bigger political aspect, which I changed a bit, but it's still there. I talk about the NHS and the waiting lists, but it's hard because I want to find a way of including that in the play. The political aspect is there, not heavily, but there is a bit of a discussion about NHS and doctors, but the focus remains on my personal story.
Has it been challenging to fit into the industry?
Coming from New York, it was a challenge to get into the industry in London...I don’t know if neurodivergence or sexuality has affected how I fit into the industry. I would like to see more work that’s queer theatre or neurodivergent-lead. That’s something I don’t see as much—there’s more queer theatre, but I haven’t seen much neurodivergent theatre. I’d like to find a way of fitting into that.
What do you feel like you can bring to the industry?
I suppose I bring a unique perspective. There are many queer artists, but not so many neurodivergent artists, it seems. I think I bring positivity. I hear a lot of people talking negatively about neurodivergence, and I like to bring positivity instead.
Is there value in the act of representation and telling stories accurately and fairly?
Yes. 100%. I want to make sure that there is representation. So, when I did my preview, a woman came with her 12-year-old daughter, who has ADHD and dyslexia, and she said her daughter was inspired, and it gave her a lot of confidence. I was so pleased, I felt like I could make a difference. Even if just one child sees this...because I didn't see something like this when I was younger, I didn't have the words to describe ADHD or gay, I didn't know what any of that was. If there’s representation, younger people can see that and be like “Okay, I’m not an idiot.”
This is a question I always like to ask, the dreaded “Why do you do this work?” question. So, why do you do this work?
It’s all I can do.
[Laughs] That’s a remarkably common answer.
I don’t know what else I would do. This is an art that feels natural. I’ve always naturally gone to performing and telling stories. I think if you’re telling or sharing information that’s so personal and true, you need to share them in the most honest way possible. It wouldn’t be honest if I shared it in any other way.
Are there any other projects you’d like to plug?
I don’t have any other projects at the moment. I want to see how Edinburgh goes, meet some people get some funding, or team up with a production company or producer, and see if we can take this further. I’d love to do it in London, and I’d love to show it around places in the UK and develop it more. I think that’s the next step.
I wish you the best of luck and hope that’s in your future, and of course, thank you for chatting with me today—I know you’re busy!
It’s no problem, I really wanted to. Thank you for speaking with me.