+3 Review: Care Takers (C, 3-29 Aug: 18.35: 55 mins)

“Astonishingly powerful”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

They say good things come in threes. To me, good theatre must have three essential ingredients: good concept, good script, good actors. Many shows have one or two of these, but this show has all three – and then some – making it very good indeed.

Care Takers analyses a simple conflict between a secondary school teacher who suspects one of her pupils is being bullied and the Deputy Head who will do nothing about it unless there is hard evidence. The tension is palpable, but a complex relationship between the pair unravels during four private meetings on the subject over a period of several weeks. What makes this show so engaging is the balance of how both sides of the story are played out – I found myself agreeing with both perspectives on more than one occasion, and power shifts from one to the other throughout to keep suspense all the way through.

From the opening phone calls she takes in her office, it’s immediately obvious that Deputy Head Mrs Rutter (Penelope McDonald) is busy: juggling budgets, workloads, staff, curriculum, and of course, her own career. She has experience and authority, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Cue the entry of Ms Lawson (Emma Romy-Jones) a newly qualified teacher: great at her job and genuinely concerned about the children in her care. The conflict that follows goes beyond what is best for an individual child, scraping away at personal prejudices, and questioning the very nature of what is best, and for whom.

McDonald and Romy-Jones both deserve awards for this performance, portraying characters so real that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a play. McDonald is infuriatingly powerful and charismatic as Mrs Rutter, giving the most compelling acting performance I’ve seen at the Fringe so far this year, while Romy-Jones creates a perfect balance as underdog Ms Lawson, with a more subtle approach to her character.

The acting is superb, but the script is also first class – seamlessly and succinctly giving the titbits of information needed to develop the story and create a situation that makes you want to jump on stage and sort it yourself. The dialogue is very natural, with each interaction sounding like a genuine conversation that tries hard to keep professional though personal tensions clearly want to take it elsewhere. Narrative development is a bit on the slow side, though I wouldn’t sacrifice this for the amount of depth we get to see from each character.

When things turn more dramatic towards the end of the play, the question arises – who’s to blame? Did the individuals involved really do all they could? It’s the kind of production where everyone will have an opinion that makes for a very lively discussion in the bar afterwards – and that’s exactly what makes this a five star show.

It’s a tense and gripping piece of theatre, which, although occasionally verges on being a little bit samey, has the potential (moreso than many of the shows I’ve seen this year) to make a big impact in the commercial market. I’d love to see it picked up by the Traverse or another producing theatre to take it further and watch it soar. With a few small tweaks it really could be very special indeed.

Care Takers is astonishingly powerful – a must-see for anyone working in secondary education or with responsibility for children of that age.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 17 August)