The Lowry

Who Cares?

21/08/19

Summerhall (Main Hall), Edinburgh

Co-produced by LUNG and The Lowry, Who Cares? is a truly heartbreaking piece of verbatim theatre. Based on a year’s worth of interviews with young carers from Salford, writer/director Matt Woodhead has created a devastating account of children taking on responsibilities many adults would shy from, and of a system that callously ignores them.

A level student Jade (Jessica Temple) is old before her time. Her mum’s moved in with her new boyfriend, leaving Jade to look after her dad and brother. Jade’s dad is paralysed; he needs help to shower and use the toilet. Her older brother can’t assist: he has profound learning disabilities, and is deaf as well. Several times a day, Jade FaceTimes her brother from the school toilets to check everything’s okay. She’s struggling to focus on her studies.

Nicole (Lizzie Mounter) is in Year 9. She’s been caring for her mum since she had a stroke when Nicole was four. Nicole keeps acting out at school; she’s on a ‘behaviour plan.’ But no wonder she’s angry: she’s only a kid, struggling to navigate a punitive benefits system, filling in forms to help her mum apply for PIPS. No one at school knows what she’s going through.

Connor (Luke Grant) is a gentle soul. He’s a bit of a geek, devoted to his computer. But his mum has mental health problems, and his dad is physically disabled. Luke’s struggling to balance Year 11 with looking after them. And he’s scared to go home after school, because he never knows what he might find…

These three stories are not unusual. I used to teach in Manchester; I knew children just like these. There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK; it’s about time their voices were heard. It’s hard to be a carer anyway, but at least adult carers get paid (albeit a pittance), at least adult carers aren’t questioned every time they try to pick up a prescription or attend an appointment. These are children, forced to inhabit a grown-up world. Why isn’t there support in place?

The performances are note perfect: these are real people with real lives. I like the high-octane rock music and the choreographed transitions between scenes; I like the onesies, the phones, the games console – reminders that these are normal teenagers, with the same needs as all their peers. The locker-room set (by Jen McGinley) is particularly effective, indicative at once of school, bureaucracy and shuttered-off feelings.

This is a must-see play, a well-deserving recipient of the 2019 SIT-UP award.

Find out more at http://www.whocarestour.org.uk

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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Theatre Bouquets 2016

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We’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing theatre again in 2016. Here, in order of viewing (and with the benefit of hindsight), are our favourite productions of the year.

Hangmen – Wyndham’s Theatre, London

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An excellent start to the year’s theatrical viewing, Martin McDonagh’s play was absolutely superb: funny, frightening and thought-provoking with an outstanding central performance by David Morrissey.

The Girls – The Lowry, Salford

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This was the biggest surprise of the year for us: on paper, it sounded a million miles away from the sort of thing we usually enjoy, and we went along reluctantly. But it was a truly delightful production – flawlessly realised.

The Merry Wives – The Lowry, Salford

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Northern Broadsides version of The Merry Wives of Windsor was a rambunctious, irreverent take on the tale, with the inimitable Barrie Rutter clearly relishing the role of Falstaff.

I Am Thomas – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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A strange and eclectic production, telling the tale of Thomas Aikenhead, the last person in Scotland to be hanged for blasphemy, this was essentially a series of vignettes and musical interludes, with an ensemble taking turns to play the eponymous role.

King Lear – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

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Michael Buffong’s King Lear was a tour de force, a gimmick-free yet undeniably modern production. Don Warrington was well-cast in the central role, but it was Pepter Lunkuse’s Cordelia who really stood out for us. She’s definitely one to watch!

Stowaway – Home, Manchester

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Analogue Theatre’s troubling tale of a stowaway falling from a flying aeroplane and landing in the car park of a DIY store was fascinating, depicting a moment where worlds collide and understandings begin to take root. A thought-provoking, political play.

Royal Vauxhall – Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

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A quirky and irreverent musical, telling the true story of when Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett dressed Princess Diana in drag and took her to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London for a night out, incognito. We loved this production.

Wonderman – Underbelly Potterrow, Edinburgh

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Based on the short stories of Roald Dahl – and incorporating a true incident from his eventful life – Gagglebabble’s collaboration with the National Theatre of Wales was a sprightly mix of drama and music with a deliciously dark heart.

Cracked Tiles – Spotlites, Edinburgh

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This beautifully crafted monologue, written and performed by Lorenzo Novani, was the downbeat tale of a young man who inherits a Glasgow fish and chip shop from his father Aldo. Novani was quite staggering as Riccardo.

Dear Home Office – Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

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This was the story of unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in the UK, performed with touching vulnerability by eight refugee boys. The play was an amalgamation of the performers’ own experiences, blended with fictional accounts. A raw and truthful exposé.

The Suppliant Women – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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It’s a rare thing indeed when you go into a theatre and are treated to something unique – but that is the word that kept coming to us, as we sat entranced in the stalls of The Lyceum, watching David Greig’s production of The Suppliant Women. Truly brilliant.

Grain in the Blood – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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A real one-off, this was a stark, unnerving chiller, at once contemporary and classical, with dialogue that was taut and ultra-modern in style, all fragments and silences and unfinished thoughts. This was a complex, angular, unwieldy play – a fascinating watch.

Jack and the Beanstalk – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

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By far the best panto we have ever seen, this was a standout production, with fantastic performances from King’s Theatre regulars Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott. It brought the year to a celebratory end.

Susan Singfield

The Herbal Bed

English Touring Theatre

The Lowry, Salford

30/03/16

The Herbal Bed: The Secret Life of Shakespeare’s Daughter takes the sparse historical details of a suit for slander and weaves them into an engaging tale. The facts are few: Susanna Hall (Shakespeare’s oldest daughter) was accused, in 1613, of having an affair with a local man, Rafe Smith. The accuser, Jack Lane, was convicted of slander, and excommunicated for his crime.

Playwright Peter Whelan extrapolates a convincing narrative from these scant details; indeed, in this version of events, Lane is telling the truth: Susanna and Rafe have indeed been intimate. But, with help from her reluctant maid, Susanna takes the moral high ground, and Lane is exposed as a spiteful liar.

It’s an interesting play, with strong performances. Michael Mears, as Vicar-General Goche, is a real delight: a perfect incarnation of lugubrious self-righteousness, revelling in the sordid details of the sin he so abhors. Matt Whitchurch, as the hapless Lane, is also very good: a brash, emphatic performance, yes, but also a convincing one, and a welcome relief in what is overall a very measured piece.

If there’s a problem with this production, it’s in the measured tone. There’s no peril here, no real tension. We know the outcome of the case; we know Susanna’s reputation – and her marriage – survive the accusations sent her way. And nobody gets carried away by emotion: apart from one brief moment of passion, Rafe and Susanna behave with sober propriety; Susanna’s husband, John Hall (Jonathan Guy Lewis) remains calm throughout. The affair, such as it is, doesn’t really seem to matter; no one’s heart is broken; no one really cares.

In the programme, director James Dacre says that Whelan “never imposes an unrealistic crisis for the sake of good drama.” And, of course, no one wants to see an unrealistic crisis in a serious play like this. But what would be wrong with a realistic crisis? It’s a fictionalised account; the possibilities are limitless. And a little excitement would go a long way.

Despite this niggle, I enjoyed The Herbal Bed. It’s intelligently conceived, and well delivered – certainly one to watch.

4 stars

Susan Singfield