C on Chambers Street, Charlotte Berry, Diabetes, Diabetic Alert Assistance Dog, Dogs, Edinburgh Fringe, Katie and Pip, Katie Gregson, Medical Assistance Dog, Rob Gregson, Technology, Theatre Review, Theresa May, Tin Can People, Type 1 Diabetes
I am not sure that a reviewer should admit to being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. My judgement will become even more dismissible. I am somewhat contemptuous of our current Prime Minister because she suffers from the same condition as I do. I can see all of her miscalculations and, believe me, she doesn’t know what she is saying half the time. When she staggered off that battleship and came out with this nonsense about “a red, white and blue Brexit,” I could tell straightaway that she was hypoglycemic. It is not hard to spot.
Type 1 diabetes is difficult to speak about, write about, and put on stage. It is a distinct part of the human experience, but one that normally requires minutes rather than seconds of explanation. If you want a good summary of the ins and outs, well you should have been at Tin Can People’s show “Katie and Pip,” at C on Chambers Street (this production, along with everything else at the Fringe, has now departed). The phenomenon that might be profitably dramatised is the unique mentality of the diabetic. Their constant, nervous detachment from their own consciousness and the paranoid vigilance that they have to forever keep over their own body. It is just like looking after a dog.
The dog in “Katie and Pip” is not a metaphor though. Pip is a medical alert assistance dog, who can detect dangerously high and low blood sugars in the sweat of her fifteen-year-old owner, Katie Gregson. Pip is a she so she is possibly a Pippa. I had never heard of assistance dogs before and I was fascinated. I should add that I have not consulted with any doctor about my condition for over a decade, telling the NHS to instead “phone me when you’ve cured it.” They’ll never cure it – there is far too much money in treating it. But is this what I have been missing out on recently – a glucometer with a big wagging tail?
No, it turns out that Katie is an enterprising dog trainer who has programmed this border collie to wake her up at night when her sugars are low. Assistance dogs are not in wide circulation or prescribed on the NHS. There are obvious dangers associated with this technology: of teaching children that they can outsource responsibility for their health to a dog; or of using the dogs as a cheaper alternative to proper care for elderly diabetics. Katie appears, however, to have educated herself thoroughly about her condition prior to training Pip. Indeed, I suspect that she must have had enough skill to repeatedly “force” hypo/hyperglycemia during the training.
Why has evolution fitted dogs with a glucometer app? In the wild, they only eat meat, which contains zero carbohydrate, so an ability to detect low blood sugars is of no practical use to them. That they get given this superpower is rather unfair.
“Katie and Pip” is nearer to One Man and His Dog than it is to Lassie. It is basically an autobiographical presentation about Katie’s life. Two “devisers” (Charlotte Berry and Rob Gregson) sternly intone poetry. Pip is brought out and she performs some tricks; tennis balls are soon bouncing in all directions along with the dog. The human performers sometimes boogie randomly to party music. There is an enjoyable chaos to the proceedings.
The part of the show in which Katie reports on her blood sugars creates confusion. We are told that the correct figure has to be between 4 and 9, but the two successive examples that Katie gives are 11 and 16. This high is probably a good place to be in the early stages of a dance-themed show (the exercise will bring them down), but it might not be clear to the audience why Katie looks so unconcerned. It was not clear to me why the dog does not respond. I imagine that being in the centre of a vortex of tennis balls is distracting the dog from keeping watch. Or maybe the dog only reacts to more extreme losses of control?
Soon the devisers’ chanting comes to reflect that coldly detached voice that is part of the diabetic mentality. This voice of caution and vigilance that is always chanting, what is happening now?, was is happening now?, what is happening now?, what is happening now?
Pip is meant to be greeting members of the audience when they leave the theatre at the end of the show. When I pass her, she scrambles up to me barking. My God, what is happening now?