This show - the real-life story of Katie & Pip - delivers a lot in a short space of time, and does it with style. Katie is fifteen years old, and Pip is five - or thirty-five in canine years. Katie has had Type 1 Diabetes since she was two, and Pip is her medical assistance dog. The show is a three-hander (or four if you count Pip’s paw), offering a picture of Katie’s life with diabetes, and her relationship with the border collie she has trained from a puppy to help keep her alive.
It does take a while to find its stride. Katie and Pip play themselves, while the other two characters are Katie’s older brother, Rob, and his partner, Charlotte. The opening section is important, as Charlotte explains how the show will run and the fact that Katie may need to take breaks to test her blood glucose levels, but it still felt stilted to me. I also found it confusing that Charlotte describes what will happen during the introduction, but the explanation turns out to be the introduction itself.
Still, once Pip arrives on stage, things speed up considerably - and she proves a very engaging performer, if rather distracting at times. The three human cast members, meanwhile, do an excellent job of portraying the overwhelming amount of information a newly diagnosed diabetic has to absorb, as well as the relentless and unending nature of the monitoring and awareness required. The metaphor for the emotional onslaught of the condition, involving many flying tennis balls, is particularly effective.
Aspects of the show are a little too surrealist for my taste, and the stylistic and tonal shifts feel very abrupt at times. A few bold presentational choices didn’t entirely work for me - though I understand and applaud the desire to portray Pip’s needs on an equal footing with a human’s. Some of the musical sections go on too long, but the emphasis on the reality of the story is effective; we are never allowed to forget that Katie is a real person, and that these issues affect millions of people on a daily basis.
Being diabetic myself, I was in a good position to empathise with Katie’s situation, and the reference to Dead in Bed Syndrome in particular hit hard. But I never felt sorry for her, and of course I shouldn’t have done. The show works hard to highlight that diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires a lot of care and attention to manage well - but Katie is a bright and energetic young woman, and it is also made very clear that there is no reason she can’t live a long and full life without her diabetes holding her back. So Katie & Pip may be a little scattershot, but it has a lot of good things to say and overall it says them very well.