Care Takers is pure theatre at its best: a simple plot wrapped in a clever script performed by consummate actors.
One of the many joys of Care Takers is the straightforward story line. Ms. Lawson is employed at Newall South High School. She is a new member of staff and this is her first job after qualifying. She is clearly competent, thorough and conscientious. She believes that Jamie Harrow, one of the students in her drama class, is being bullied because he’s gay. She duly reports the matter to the Deputy Head, Mrs Rutter, in the belief that she will will deal with it in accordance with the school’s procedures.
While the immediate concern might be the plight of poor Jamie, the play is about far more. A fascinating aspect of the writing is how the undoubted bullying that Jamie suffers is mirrored in the relationship between the two protagonists. Ultimately, this is not a just another play about homophobia, although it certainly deals with it, rather it is about the exercise of power and responsibility and of standing up for what you believe to be right, in an oppressive hierarchy.
Neither is this just one more play about life in school. Newall High provides the context, but the themes are universal. People I spoke to after the play, from a variety of backgrounds, recognised the situations it portrayed. Anyone who works in a company, and particularly in the public sector, will recognise immediately the power struggle, conflict and bullying that goes on in the deputy head’s office. This play is authentic: nearer to fact than fiction.
Penelope McDonald’s portrayal of the deputy head is a masterclass of characterisation. Her power-dressing outfit, posture and delivery create a woman of towering strength. She is condescending, patronising and a bully, motivated by self-interest and a desperate desire to ensure that no one rocks the boat. She has the full armoury of tactics up her sleeve, learned over many years, and knows how to deploy them for the preservation of herself and the institution. She is outwardly as clinical as her office looks. Emma Romy-Jones, meanwhile, has to deal with all of this as the newcomer and she proves to be a fast learner. Clearly devoted to her students and a woman of conviction she is shocked and initially taken aback in her meetings with Mrs Rutter, but learns to stand her ground and even finds weaknesses in her adversaries defences that at times give her the upper hand. As actors, the two are perfectly matched. Emma Romy-Jones carves out an equally well-defined character in a stalwart performance of passion, conviction and rationality.
Without the penetrating script from Billy Cowan, none of this would be possible. The language is precise and yet flows naturally; the arguments are concisely formulated and the scenes full of suspense. Even at the end, when matters are seemingly resolved, there is still plenty left for discussion.
Care Takers is pure theatre at its best: a simple plot wrapped in a clever script performed by consummate actors. What more could you ask for?