Interview: Karen Mann and Roy Mitchell, Care

Roy Mitchell, co-creator of BBC’s New Tricks, wrote Care when he was a student at Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre in 1977. Last performed at the Royal Court in 1983, this “powerful and provocative” work is about to be revived with an ethnically diverse cast by The Angus Mackay Foundation, and will run from 9th-14th May at the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton.

“In essence it’s about a young couple in 1970s Birmingham who end up putting their baby in a cupboard,” summarises Roy. “Why they do so takes about two hours of stage time to explain.”

Karen Mann, who plays central character Cheryl, adds, “They’re a young couple who love each other, but have found themselves in an awful circumstance trying to navigate a secret that could alter their life.

“The sense of disenfranchisement and isolation is really relatable. These are good people who are trying so hard but they have never been given amazing opportunities; how can anyone survive and grow without support?”

Karen jumped at the chance to be involved in reviving Care for a new generation. “The producer introduced me to the play and I just knew I had to be a part of it, although I knew it would be very dark,” she explains. “He told me it looked at a relationship that was so raw and real, but the play was so physical, and as someone with physical theatre training but who loves straight plays with strong narratives, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And when I got my hands on that script I thought to myself I will give anything to play Cheryl; her journey is astounding.

“When I opened the script I saw two humans who are very much in love and trying to make the most of the situation handed to them. I never perceived them as bad people – I thought WOW I can understand how that happened and why they have created this bubble to exist in. The play although dark is so funny and so full of love, and that to me is really interesting because I think all of us can relate to this play in some type of way.”

For Roy, seeing Care performed again after all these years is a surreal experience, and has come with a few surprises. “I’m not the young man who wrote it any more – and yet of course, I am,” he says. “It’s been surprising to see how well the cast and director are able to understand and recognise the characters’ behaviour.

“It’s also great fun hearing the Birmingham accent and language of my youth – it has become very diluted. What is new is the multi-racial casting element; it actually makes much more sense of a couple of things that have occurred in the back story, and perhaps one or two in the play itself. What it has to say about spiritual poverty and materialism I think seems a lot more prescient than I once thought. 

“The idea was inspired by my upbringing; I was very happy but a lot of the world around me wasn’t. Children were invariably seen and not heard – though not in my case! And in particular, the play was inspired by Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata.”

Karen, her fellow cast members – Marc Benga, Jaana Tamra and Leo Shirely – and director Emily Marshall have been working closely with Roy on the play’s revival. “Roy has been so generous with his time and I’ve learnt so much about the world of this play because of him,” says Karen. “He’s allowing all of us actors to own our characters, but he is so intuitive when we don’t understand certain quirks and is so sensitive when explaining it to us. Roy is an actors’ writer and having him be a part of rehearsals has been the most enjoyable experience – especially considering all the experience he has!”

As for what audiences take away from seeing the play? “That’s up to them,” concludes Roy. “Despite the content and subject of the play, it will make them laugh in places – otherwise we’re buggered.”

Care is at the Courtyard Theatre from 9th-14th May. Tickets are just £9 with code Monkey16.

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