Review: Care at the Courtyard Theatre

Guest review by Lucrezia Pollice

Funny, but is it?
It’s all lovely and nice to have children but what are the stories not told?

Care was first performed at the Royal Court Upstairs, with its first revival by the Angus Mackay Foundation at the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch. Set in a young couple’s living room, the play looks very intimately at the narratives of Terry and Cheryl, who seem to be dealing with something. It is this something that drives the narrative. An it – a she – something or someone hidden centre stage in a cupboard, which forces spectators to engage.

Terry, played by Marc Benga, is very charismatic and seems at first to be unaffected by the whole situation. Karen Mann’s Cheryl instead is distressed from the start. She is suffering from some pain of her own, trying to get attention from Terry and a love which is not given back. The TV glares throughout the scene as we watch their daily life over the course of a long weekend. The story is simple, but interesting; it gives actors more responsibility to deliver the script.

Throughout the performance, their friends David (Leo Shirley) and Cathy (Jaana Tamra) come round to the house. The relationships between the couples are strong, and create a comical scene in which Terry and Cheryl are in distress but cannot find the courage to tell Cathy and David to leave. The Polish stereotype of Cathy’s character is overly rude and sexual, and her lack of social understanding of the situation is made comical by the hilarious body language during the scene of her husband, who seems to have given up on her.

From what seems like a normal domestic, it escalates into what instead looks like an abusive relationship. Who is abusing who is unclear though. It begins as a physically abusive relationship from Terry’s part, to then shift to a loving relationship, to then seem like it is her who is abusing him. Slightly confusing, perhaps on purpose, who in the relationship was causing troubles. Terry seems to be innocent; he makes all the jokes and seems to be stuck in a house and situation he doesn’t want to be in. Or is Cheryl right in saying that he doesn’t respect her?

The playwright Roy Mitchell was a member of the National and Birmingham Youth Theatres, trained as an actor at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre, and more recently has been participating in the creation of BBC1’s New Tricks drama. He touches upon very difficult topics in this play, making the audience work to understand the motifs behind the characters’ actions by not giving much away until the end.

Perhaps the simple narrative at times needs a bit more tension as this is lacking. Conveying a constant distress creates a slightly lamenting voice, which becomes uncomfortable after a while, and accents are slippery at times. The intentions between the two main characters are slightly unclear, and the grief of a baby’s loss is not conveyed as deeply as it could be in moments of despair. However, overall the performances are believable, and it was really lovely to engage with an ethnically diverse cast with such a powerful taboo topic which is death.

My favourite moment must be when Terry and Cheryl come back drunk from the pub and start watching a horror on TV. It is amazing to see how something so simple can be made into something so entertaining. The performance is overall touching upon very delicate topics, but is presented also with light moments of comedy and an obscurity as to what is happening, which might intrigue spectators.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

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.