Who Cares is not just a show. It is a project giving a voice to just some of the estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK today and it is a campaign which is petitioning the government to make key changes to improve the lives of these young carers involving councils, schools and the introduction of a Young Carers’ Identification Card. (Incidentally, this final recommendation is already in place in Edinburgh.)
The play itself is the culmination of two years of interviews with young carers in Salford and is a joint project between The Lowry and LUNG (a theatre company which describes itself as being “theatre at its loudest”). And Who Cares is loud; impossible to walk away from without recognising the importance of supporting these young carers.
The words spoken on stage are taken verbatim from the words of the youngsters involved in the making of the production adding additional gravitas to the script and they are delivered so beautifully and so intensely by the three actors.
Jade (Jessica Temple) already helped to care for her deaf brother when her dad had a life-changing accident leaving him in a wheelchair. Her mum walked out and it was left to Jade to become the primary carer. At school she is constantly in trouble for being late. Connor (Luke Grant) has a mother with bipolar and a father with fibromyalgia. At the end of the play he receives even more devastating news. And finally, Nicole (Lizzie Mounter) became a carer at four after her mum had a stroke. She is forever in trouble, lashing out at anyone and everyone to cope with the bottled up rage and sadness bubbling inside her.
Cleverly choreographed, every scene change is marked by a return to the lit school lockers which frame the stage, the opening and closing of which are timed to perfection. Three chairs are moved to different positions to indicate where we are: the school bus, a classroom, a young carers’ meeting. Every time one carer talks the audience are transfixed by the story and just at that moment we move to another story – an indication perhaps that there are just so many to hear. Periodically we hear the accounts of those working with young carers and the struggle to make a difference and finally we hear from the parents who struggle not just with disability but with the vulnerability and shame of having their children take on the role of the adults in the house.
Who Cares is a hard-hitting, important drama which it would be wonderful if all schools could hear.