Performing to a small audience at Leicester’s Curve theatre, the cast of Who Cares give an emotional and heartfelt performance as they advocate for young people who go above and beyond, taking on vital caring roles for a family member.
As an educator in my day job, this topic is particularly pertinent and it is a firm belief of mine that more needs to be done to support Young Carers in our society, who somehow balance their studies, their friendships and their sense of self with taking on an almost parental role, often for their own parents. Shockingly, there is no monetary recompense for the role they diligently undertake but even worse than this, budgets are being cut and support withdrawn. This production is as much social commentary as it is a theatrical experience and it really packs a punch.
With a simple set of school lockers and three chairs, the focus is entirely on the actors, who are themselves young carers. The premise of the production is to hear the actual words of real-life young carers and it is clear that the award-winning theatre company, LUNG, have worked hard to give these young people a voice, and this voice, we are told in the post-show discussion, has been heard in parliament. And so it should and hopefully not just heard, but listened to. Matt Woodhead should be applauded for his insight in writing such a moving and emotive script.
Connor (Luke Grant), Nicole (Lizzie Mounter) and Jade (Liyah Summers) have two things in common: they go to the same school and they are Young Carers. They tell their stories directly to the audience, making this a personal and intimate exploration. The ticking alarm clock signals the start of another day as the acting trio wake up, and the hour-long production begins. Each character has their own tale to tell, but as their speech overlaps, it becomes clear that there are commonalities in each of their lives; the frantic mornings, the worries around organisation and, on leaving the house, the worry of what will be waiting for them when they return home. The physical theatre elements of the play are precise and well executed, adding an element of hectic anxiety and highlighting the struggles of each character.
There are many transitions in the play, some might say too many making the stories disjointed in places, but others could argue that this just highlights the pressure that is placed on Young Carers. Each transition is punctuated by loud music, something that seems to be of comfort to the characters as they can escape into another, stress-free world. Each actor takes on multiple roles: primarily they are a Young Carer, but also professionals with opinions on the lack of support for Young Carers and parents. The lighting is used very cleverly to support the audience in recognising the different characters of each actor. It adds another layer of interest to hear from multiple perspectives.
In a nutshell, the performance is about Adverse Childhood Experiences, and research shows that these experiences can impact children into their adulthood. As an audience member, I can feel the nervous energy of the characters as they explain about death, mental health, disability, isolation and fear. Mounter as Nicole gives a very raw account of a suicide attempt which is utterly heart-breaking.
We are told that support for Young Carers is a postcode lottery with different local authorities dedicating different levels of funding to these young people; I was reassured from the post-show discussion that here in Leicester, the plight of Young Carers is taken very seriously. While the three characters tell completely different stories, the comradeship between the three is clear as they speak to the Young Carers in the audience, “you are not on your own” – this is a strong message, especially as the characters had previously spoken about their own isolation.
As an educator, this felt almost like a training course to make us more aware of the day to day struggles of Young Carers, where they are not recognised, or given adequate support or just simply ignored; the production should be made available to educators and other public services. Just as, or even more, importantly, policy makers should sit up and pay attention. These stories are here, they are real and more support is needed. Yes this is a theatre review, but as a cause that I feel very strongly about, like the production itself, this review is a call for action and I make no apologies for that.
This production is raw, emotional, humorous at times, topical and heartfelt. If you are unable to visit Curve Theatre in Leicester before Wednesday 10 November, the playscript is available on BBC Sounds or you could visit the website to learn more about the Who Cares Campaign: https://www.whocarescampaign.co.uk/
Who Cares runs at Curve 8-10 November