Delirious Days: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland @ Royal Opera House

This weekend Lillie and I were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to see the Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in rehearsal at the Royal Opera House.  It was one of the most exciting days possible for Lil, who wants to be a ballerina and loved Christopher Wheeldon’s new take on the surreal tale when it was broadcast on television late last year (in fact it was almost too exciting and she was several times threatened with not going at all ‘if you can’t calm the hell down’).  It was equally exciting for me, an Alice aficionado (and so, admittedly, the threat was idle).

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I looked a lot like this in the hours pre-theatre actually…

The performance has been adapted somewhat from the Alice of 2011 the better to suit families with fidgety children, meaning two intervals and no more than 45 minutes sitting still.  While I can’t speak for other people I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary, the middle portion of just 26 minutes finishing when it did was somewhat unexpected and Lil was quite keen to get on with the story (‘I only just HAD a wee!’), being quite used to visiting the cinema to see films of 90 minutes, plus 3.7 weeks of adverts beforehand.  And yet despite these changes, and the fact of Alice’s status as a children’s classic, Lillie was among only a handful of kids in the audience – all girls between the ages of five and ten, all quite patently middle class.  

It’s a shame that still now the ‘high arts’ can be so prohibitive.  Through no fault of the Opera House or the Royal Ballet and, in fact, in spite of their best efforts, an experience like this is still beyond the grasp of most families on middle and lower incomes.  Not only that but it’s still often an uncomfortable experience to take children to the theatre or galleries, not because of the staff but other visitors, who can be very tut-and-stare.  Conversely staff at London attractions, and some outside of the capital (though less so), are charming with children, here at the ROH Lillie was handed the tickets by the door staff, asked directly if she wanted a booster cushion – rendered useless by the tallest man in London two rows ahead – and served her drink in a grown up glass; all things that make Mums melt.  

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Another interval?  Le sigh…

I don’t know exactly what the prices are or whether the Royal Opera House has schemes in place to put ballet and opera within the reach of lower income visitors or those with children, and their somewhat difficult to use website appears not to know either, but it is cheering to find it so comfortable a place to be with a child while not being subjected to more churned out kid-friendly dross.  The bold, bright fun of Wheeldon’s Alice is engaging for even the youngest audiences and the fact that most children will be aware of Lewis Carroll’s tale, or it’s Disney offshoots, negates the difficulty of understanding a story told through dance, while the the splashy vignettes as Alice moves through Wonderland work well as independent stories.

Choreographer Wheeldon has come under criticism for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with dance critics complaining at the lack of complex ballet on show.  What those critics fail to realise (or perhaps what they bitterly do) is that Alice isn’t for them.  While Lillie, a wannabe ballerina, would undoubtedly have loved to see a chain of perfectly executed fouettes, she could see those at a dance showcase – here a story was told not just with dance – tap, much to Lil’s delight, included – but with a stunning set (based, I think, on how my house would look if my husband let me do whatever I wanted), impressively simple special effects (the oversized puppet Cheshire Cat was greeted with gasps and chuckles) and clever costumes (I require a copy of the Queen of Hearts ‘dress’ to be pushed around town in please).  More importantly, with effortless ballet and great expression, the cast brought one of my childhood’s and now Lil’s most loved stories to life.  And I like to think that the opinions of Lillie and her compatriots might be just ever so slightly more important to the people behind Alice than those po-faced old hacks requiring MORE JETTES.

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Do our children need anti-psychotics

An investigation by Channel 4 news has revealed that as many as 15,000 British under 18s were prescribed anti-psychotic medication last year.

In fact C4’s statistics are taken only from GP surgeries with no official data from specialists and hospitals. In my experience GPs are reluctant to prescribe this level of drug, referring patients to a psychiatrist instead. With that in mind the true figures could be so much higher.

I could regurgitate C4’s piece, which points out that the results of this research come in the wake of the governments crackdown in ‘chemically coshing’ of the elderly, other vulnerable groups, including young people and the often coshed sufferers of depression (er, should we not be cracking down on this practice for everybody? Just a thought…), but you could just go and read that yourself – the link’s up top there.

Instead I’m going to tell you about my own experiences of anti-psychotics, GPs and prescriptions.

I’ve been prescribed a host of different medications, on and off label, over the years including a wide range of anti-depressants for mood and for pain, sleeping pills and anti-psychotics. Yes, I’m a hypochondriac.

I’ve recently stopped taking a drug called Quetiapine, an anti-psychotic, after negative experiences. To give you an idea of the effects of this drug, Quetiapine is often found floating about in prisons, sold as ‘baby heroin’. While for my diagnosis of bipolar this was a perfectly reasonable prescription, if my child was prescribed the same I’d have a few questions.

The Quetiapine had such a sedative effect I could easily sleep for days at a time, at one point during the summer holidays waking at 3pm only for my five year old daughter to tell me ‘I tried to wake you up. It’s ok though, I’ve been cleaning the house.’ My attention would often drift to the point that I’d find myself snapping back to life twenty miles down the A14 or, less dangerously but with monetary consequences, staring unfocused at my computer screen for half an hour, fingers poised but unmoving.

And this was at the lowest starter dose, 25mg. My psychiatrist told me that he had some patients on 800mg. I recall particularly his description of the difficulty of finding a dosage to suit his patients: ‘I have one fifty year old man, a big ex-builder, who functions well on the 25mg dose. Another of my patients has to take 800mg, she’s probably five foot and very slim.’

Last year I spent my Christmas in A&E hooked up to a drip with a suspected reaction to another drug, Lamotrigine, an anti-convulsant often used in the treatment of bipolar and schizophrenia. The allergic reaction is a common one and absolutely deadly.

While for me these drugs weren’t a good fit, for millions they really do work, I don’t dispute for a moment that the responsible prescription of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and anti-convulsants is a very important thing that improves the lives of many. For myself the treatment of my anxiety through the use of similar drugs has made a marked improvement on my quality of life.

However these aren’t aspirin, they’re hard core, mood altering bastards which can easily send you even crazier, damage your health very seriously or make you suicidal. Their usage in the treatment of ADHD is off-label (by which I mean officially unproven) and one of the dangers lies in ceasing a dosage too quickly – would you trust even the most sensible 16 year old to take a pill at the same time every day? I wouldn’t.

I wonder how many parents, baffled by healthcare jargon and at the end of their tether in the face of an ADHD child has simply accepted a prescription for anti-psychotics? After all, the doc knows what he’s doing and the kid’s finally calming down and going to bed at night. I’ve certainly had days with my perfectly healthy children when I’d have done anything to shut them up.

Not all people have the ability or wherewithal to google their new drug, as I – a web-savvy type with years of experience in the industry – and my husband – an IT professional – do with every new prescription. In fact I wonder if everybody even reads the leaflet in the box.

I’ll tell you what worries me most about this news though, and about the fact that the government isn’t appearing concerned about the chemical coshing of patients outside of the elderly. It’s this:

At the age of 18, having just started uni and found myself struggling I went to the local GP in Cardiff. I walked in and was asked what the problem was.

“I think I need anti-depressants.”
“Right. Have you felt like this for long?”
“Since I started university.” (this was the november of my first year)

Without further question or hesitation I was prescribed Citalopram.

I wonder if I took one of kids to that same GP now and told him ‘I think he has ADHD,’ things would be any different.

*I’d be really interested to hear from anybody with children on mood stabilizers or to hear about other people’s experience of lazy prescriptions so do feel free to post here or message me on http://www.twitter.com/hoola

Welcome to (Just Another) Manic Mummy

Hello

This certainly isn’t the first blog I’ve ever had.  In fact I’ve probably forgotten a lot of the blogs I’ve started.  There have been ones that I’ve set up and never even posted to, some that were moderately successful (if you count success as free gear or making people laugh) and some that acted as dumping grounds for all the stuff I had nowhere else to put.  Most of them have been consigned to the great white space of the internet where they live alongside Angelfire and all those attempts Google made at social networking.

They (whoever ‘they’ might be) say you should write what you know.  So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  I’m going to write here about being a mummy to two far too independent, squabbling children (Lillian, 5 and Ted, 4) and an excitable, harassed kitten (Professor Spangles, 5 months) while trying to hold down a freelance career, support a seriously stressed husband setting up his own business (Mike, 34) and deal with a relatively recent diagnosis of rapid cycling bipolar disorder and social anxiety.

Watch this space…