REVIEW: Katie Piper – What’s In My Head (Duchess Theatre) ★★★★

A glamorous figure walks on to the stage, smiling broadly and waving at the audience, thanking us with genuine appreciation for attending the evening. This is Katie Piper: philanthropist, motivational-speaker, charity-owner, wife, mother – and the survivor of a horrific chemical attack in March 2008. Over the past decade, Katie has endured hundreds of operations both abroad and on home soil, experiencing countless daily challenges that (in complete honesty) the average person would be shocked to learn the reality of. Katie tells us that she intends for this tour to be an all-exposing, gritty and honest unveiling of the woman behind the headlines.

We are taken on a journey, structured into sections that explain both Katie’s physical and psychological recovery – or, it could be argued, development, since her ordeal. Hands cover mouths as the screen onstage reveals images of Katie’s earlier life, juxtaposed with the shocking reality of her injuries and treatments. The show employs a number of sensory aids: her favourite songs relating to empowerment and strength, videos, photographs and different props. Several outfit changes accompany the topics of each section, and all the while I found myself sitting there thinking, “This woman is as down-to-earth as it gets – real best friend material.”

Indeed, Katie has an undeniable affinity for public speaking. She possesses a voice that is very easy to listen to at length, knowing how to retain audience attention with changes in tone and style, shifting the mood with content and inserting comedy regularly. Her ability to poke fun at herself is a truly rare and beautiful quality: her story holds zero pretence and she is not in the trade of self-pity, so discussing her bowel movements and excess hair is no problem for Katie – it was a brilliant tool for putting the audience at ease and making us feel like we’d been close friends with her for years. (A particular favourite was the line “I want to be a triangle for Tenerife” – honestly, you had to be there. I’m still chuckling to myself now.)

Our hostess for the evening articulates feelings and thoughts incredibly well, drawing upon specific examples in her life to illustrate particular points. It’s far easier to draw inspiration from someone when they are very forthcoming with practical knowledge, and offering ways of actually dealing with life’s challenges. Throughout the show, Katie offers her various coping mechanisms used for dealing with anxiety, difficult life events and for obtaining greater confidence and acceptance within oneself; practical techniques such as breathing exercising and also various ‘affirmations’ (mantras).

It seems crude to be ‘reviewing’ what is essentially Katie’s life story, as I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for her sheer honesty and the (despite what she humbly says) remarkable way that she has dealt with the harrowing life events she has endured. What I can say, however, is that she has achieved her goal of producing a deeply personal, entertaining and moving show that is genuinely focused on helping and inspiring others as opposed to just talking about oneself. A truly outstanding human being and a show filled with well-communicated storytelling.

Reviewed by Laura Evans


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