Play exposes long term neglect for the social care sector
Who Cares at the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford
on Tuesday, September 28
Review by JON LEWIS
It is only a matter of weeks since the Government announced how the country was going to pay for social care. In a production that could not be more relevant, Matt Woodhead’s pacy production of Who Cares, written in 2016 for LUNG and Salford’s The Lowry, exposes the long term neglect for the social care sector in a thrilling, hard-hitting, verbatim play focusing on unpaid young carers.
Three Salford schoolchildren are forced to care for their parents. Their stories interweave with factual narratives from parents, social workers, local authority officials and administrators. Played out in front of a bank of school lockers, cleverly doubling as costume change spaces, Nicole, aged 13 (Lizzie Mounter), Jade, aged 18 (Liyah Summers) and Connor, aged 15 (Luke Grant) are but three of the 700,000 estimated young carers in the country, one in 12 of all young people. Their lives were hard even before they became carers, coping with parents splitting up, losing their jobs, and struggling with mental health problems. Using direct address, these children are born storytellers, their words resonating with authenticity from their lived experiences.
The actors demonstrate their versatility when they shift into an array of older characters and an extensive range of regional accents. It’s these characters who deliver the broader contextual dialogue, illustrating to the audience how poorly the structures that underpin society – especially the health and education sectors – fail young people in need.
Their bleaker messages are related in near darkness (lighting designer, Will Monks) while the staging becomes more animated when the focus is on the children. What comes through strongly in the narrative is how the system has relied on youngsters working for free to care for bedridden or incapacitated loved ones. This show was performed in front of a House of Lords audience, highlighting the systemic failures in the seat of power.
The play ends with the shocking revelation that Connor has inherited the condition which has laid low his father. Plaintively, he asks the audience ‘who is going to care for me?’. An important play for which it is hoped there is a solution.