Clean at 17

Many British people might celebrate their 18th birthday by having their first legal pint at a pub, but by then Katie O’Brien was already sober. Although many experimented with alco-pops and smoking in their teens, Katie went in hard and fast at a very young age.

Both enjoyable and necessarily uncomfortable

But tonight, everyone is invited to Katie’s 17th birthday party and it’s a wild one. 90s rave music is banging, Katie is dancing like nobody’s watching, and there’s drinks all round! What happens next is a funny and emotional journey through addiction, sobriety, and beyond.

There’s a lot of audience interaction in Clean at 17, some of which feels very uncomfortable as you aren’t really sure how to respond. But isn’t that the point? Katie plays someone under the influence perfectly: her swaying, slurring, and unpredictable behaviour puts you on edge as you’re never quite sure what she’ll do next. It puts the relationships between those who are sober and those who are high in sharp relief.

However, Clean at 17 isn’t just about the shock factor. Hearing Katie’s story unfold through her mother’s testimony is very heartfelt, particularly when it develops from a mother being scared for her daughter to understanding her mother’s own addiction journey, and the part that probably played in Katie's choices.

Overall, it’s a story of hope and optimism, albeit one tinged with realism. After getting sober, Katie goes to art school, and builds a life that her 16 year old self would be proud of. But it isn’t happily ever after - she has mistakes and regrets like anyone else. Being sober is a day-by-day decision, not a visit from a fairy godmother.

It would have been interesting to explore further into Katie’s thoughts about 12-step fellowships and NA meetings. The impression was that Katie was getting fed up with labels, but the conflict she had with her mother about not attending was only briefly hinted at. As someone unfamiliar with these programmes, hearing more from someone who’s been there done that would have been an enlightening addition.

Addiction is a complex and personal topic. Howveer, in Clean at 17 Katie manages to capture what it feels like to be on both sides of a journey through addiction by alternating between nuance and rawness in a performance that is both enjoyable and necessarily uncomfortable.

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Reviews by Elanor Parker

Komedia - Brighton

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Since you’re here…

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Performances

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The Blurb

Award-winning actress Katie O’Brien presents a fresh, funny, and taboo-smashing take on addiction and recovery. We’re familiar with stories of addicted pop stars to born again pimps but what does being 23 years clean really mean? Katie has been in a love-hate relationship with 12 Step fellowships and modern-day psychology’s take on addiction. She has a few things to say about this and her lived experience through a series of skits, stories and oversharing. Hilarious, brutally honest, heart-warming and provocative; a one-woman show that challenges perceptions of recovering from addiction, pathologising humanity and the quest of self-discovery.

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