Interview: Philippa Dawson on her new show Character Flaw debuting this summer in London and Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Philippa in a rainbow dress smiling on a white background

Philippa is a queer and neurodivergent writer, producer, and performer, known for The Rebirthing Club (BAFTA film festival) and her various appearances on stages/screens in both London and New York. Her debut one-woman show, Character Flaw, is a truthful account of her experiences with ADHD and her coming out journey. 

Interest piqued? We thought so! Well fear not because we caught up with Philippa to pick her (extremely unique!) brain on her upcoming new material and bagged some exclusive intel on what to expect from the performance, which uses the likes of charming and bold sketches, hilarious voiceovers, and music, all sprinkled with Philippa’s signature storytelling sparkle. Chronically underdiagnosed and misunderstood in women, ADHD is put under the microscope here as Philippa peels back the layers of her neurodiversity and examines how it affected her journey as a queer woman. (And don’t worry, we obviously didn’t forget to ask her about her formative lesbian crushes… duh!)

So your one-woman show, Character Flaw, debuts in London this month ahead of its Edinburgh Fringe run! How are you feeling?!

Ohhh gosh… overwhelmed, nervous and excited! I seem to be flitting between tears and laughter most days, which I think (and hope) is fairly normal.This is my first solo show, and I’m being reminded on a daily basis of the trials of putting on a show about ADHD, when you actually have ADHD.

Right – a bit of a vicious cycle. Do you touch on that in the show?

I suppose I do touch on that, but without realising. I have struggled to find the balance between creativity and productivity and the vicious circle, as you put it, has been glaringly obvious to me during this process. To explain a bit more, during the play I discover how ADHD medication helped me succeed in education and work, but dramatically affected my mental health and creativity. I stepped away from medication in 2019 because of this. However, in order to achieve the focus and efficiency required to produce a solo show I have actually had to take the tablets again! But, now I am finding it affects my creativity. It’s a real Catch 22 that I will perhaps explore in a future show…

Wow yeah that sounds really tough, like a trade-off with your own brain. Now that you’ve worked so hard to get it to this point, what other things can your audience expect to see?

Whilst the play covers some serious topics, it is very much a comedy! There are silly sketches, hilarious voiceovers and lots of storytelling, all bringing to life some weird and wonderful characters. It’s very fast-paced and full of twists, turns and tangents. I suppose it follows the thought process of an ADHD mind (mine!) so the audience can expect to be kept on their toes and very entertained.

That sounds amazing – what kind of weird and wonderful characters are we talking about?

My friend has this theory that an old woman lives in my head, and is always having a clear out. Throwing out anecdotes, thoughts and ideas at complete random. And when I’ve been drinking, the woman gets her glad rags on and goes on a rampage (this was long before we realised I had ADHD). When I wrote the play I decided to bring this character to life, she’s an eccentric Scottish woman and the friend who invented her, Charly Clive, has recorded the voiceovers, which is really exciting. 

She sounds like a right laugh!

Yeah, I love her character so much! She always means well, and is so adamant that whatever she brings up is important or interesting information. She keeps the story moving forward and doesn’t let my character rest. It is a very fast-moving and full show, however, it was important for me to include a moment in the play where audience members could breathe and not have to be listening for a moment. 

As a neurodivergent person, I can find watching solo shows quite exhausting, with no moments to relax. So, I’ve chosen a beautiful piece of classical music to play at one point which should be a lovely moment and very different from the rest of the show. The performance on 14th August will also be a ‘Relaxed Performance’ designed especially for anyone with sensory needs, i.e., the lighting will not fully dim, loud sounds will be softened and the audience will be free to move around and come and go if they need to.

Philippa Dawson in a blue and white pinstripe suit with flowers in her hair on a pink background

That’s awesome, there’s really something for everyone in this show. You mention in the promo that you talk about your coming out story too. Will the queer community be seeing some #relatablecontent?

There is definitely some (funny and painfully) relatable content for the queer community! The Scottish woman in my head plays a part here. Digging up some private memories…well, I should probably say fantasies. And I explore how ADHD has both kept me in the closet for a long time, whilst also outing me before I was ready. I actually wanted to write a song called ‘When Your ADHD Outs You’ but I ran out of time. Perhaps if the show has a life after Edinburgh I’ll update it…

Ha, fantasies like… the confusingly formative childhood obsession that every queer woman has buried in their brain somewhere? Care to drop a name?

Ha, well like many young and confused lesbians, I was obsessed with a number of women – especially actresses! The sister from Cheaper by the Dozen perhaps being the least cool. I always told myself it was just because I wanted to be an actor too and I idolised them. But… it was weird to be thinking about Dawn Steele (aka Lexie from Monarch of the Glen, LOL) 24/7. In the show, I also mention a teacher I had a crush on, but I’ve had to change her name, as her real name was ‘Miss Beaver’ and I don’t think anyone would have believed me! 

OMG that’s hilarious! But also really interesting what you said about ADHD both outing you and keeping you in the closet – how does that work?

Oh gosh well, small ADHD related mistakes and distractions have often caused me to out myself. I once wore a large shaggy coat to school, feeling very cool, and a teacher said in front of the class, “Philippa you look like a hobo”. What an awful thing to say to a student, or to anyone! But I tried to own the insult and so I signed off a piece of work to her “from the class hobo.” However… I wrote ‘homo’. Everyone laughed and that became my nickname for a long time. Of course, I tried to own that as well, it’s even written in my leavers book! This is just a small example which didn’t really out me, but it led to a lot of other conversations which did. 

Later, when I was exploring my sexuality and talking to women, I’d hide my phone from anyone seeing that I was on dating apps. But one evening when my sisters and I were taking a selfie, I’d forgotten to turn my notifications off, and as we were all smiling at the screen a Tinder notification from ‘Sophie’ popped down. Couldn’t have been something neutral like Sam!

In terms of keeping me in the closet it was more a case of not listening to myself. People with ADHD often don’t take themselves seriously, and we’re often labelled as ‘the joker’. This comes from a place of insecurity and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, an intense fear or rejection. I think this played a huge part in why I never took my thoughts and actions seriously. I won’t say any more, (as you’ll have to see the show) but I often wonder if I’d allowed myself to acknowledge everything and put it together I’d have realised I was a lesbian a whole lot sooner!

Okay, extremely relatable content then, while still being completely unique. And we need a time machine for queer women to come out to their younger selves! On that topic though, what advice would you give to yourself if you could go back to the beginning of the process and/or to anyone starting out on a similar project?

It’s hard to think of advice as I’m very much in the middle of the project and am still learning every day (and regularly feeling incredibly overwhelmed). I know that if I had started this whole process earlier in the year things would definitely have been easier, so I’d give myself, and anyone else, that advice. But then, I suppose…  if I had the organisational skills to have started earlier, I probably wouldn’t have ADHD. And if I didn’t have ADHD, then I wouldn’t have this play!

I think I’d encourage myself to find someone else to help – a producer, someone to help with PR or just having someone else to work with, be accountable to, and seek reassurance from would really help and I encourage anyone to do that as well. Oh, and I’d tell myself to invest in a large wall chart and write all the deadlines in big red letters on it!

Sounds sensible, although a little terrifying. There’s a lot of ‘ADHD life hacks’ floating around on social media at the moment. Got any favourites? Or any opinions about that?

Ohhh, god I have a love/hate relationship with all the ADHD life hacks on social media. I love seeing relatable content and finding great tips, but a lot of accounts promote ‘ADHD superpowers’ and describe ADHD as a positive. Whilst I think we need to be positive about neurodivergence and find ways to love this part of ourselves, ADHD is still a disorder with very serious symptoms and implications. I worry that Tiktok videos can make it seem less serious, or give others the impression that ‘everyone has ADHD’. 

I actually give a little nod to social media videos right at the beginning of the show, and say “instead of doing that, I’ll just share how ADHD feels for me”. I think it’s important that whilst sharing my own experience, I highlight that it’s different for everyone. But, this is what I have experienced and what I have learnt. Informative… and (hopefully) very funny!

Philippa in a black dress with flowers in her hair against a pink background surrounded by clowds with the text Character Flaw and then Or is it an ADHD thing?

Well, Character Flaw sounds like it’s gonna be just as much fun as it is educational. Can we commit ADHD blasphemy by asking you to leave us with just one sentence that captures why everyone should see it?

Just one sentence… that’s a big ask for someone with ADHD, I’ll do my best!

If you identify as queer, have ADHD, think you might have ADHD, know someone neurodivergent, or love to laugh until you cry…  then this is a show for you! 

One sentence, I did it! Although, I’d like to say a lot more. Especially that this show is honest and heartfelt, and, whilst you can learn about ADHD on the internet, if you want to experience someone else’s stories and life then live theatre is where you need to go, so come to Edinburgh and see Character Flaw!

Well, you heard her! Character Flaw will be on at Edinburgh Fringe Festival between 4th-26th August, 5.20pm at Greenside, Nicolson Square in the Lime Studio, with tickets starting at £8. You can catch the only London preview this Thursday 6th July, 7.30pm at Streatham Space Project. Tickets are available here, so grab yours for some magical queer storytelling from a one-of-a-kind performer. We can’t wait!

In the meantime, why not visit Nonchalant’s Theatre page to check out some more great ‘thesbian’ content (see what we did there? )

Love Nonchalant x

Libby Brown
Libby Brown

Libby is a writer/performer for theatre and cabaret, living in Camden with her cat. She loves poetry, music and horror films, and never quite recovered from her emo phase.

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