Review: Take Care, Network Theatre Vault Festival

‘Take care:’ a quintessentially British phrase, the kind of thing your grandma might say to you or the perfect way, albeit slightly passive-aggressive, to tell your Tinder date you have no intention of seeing them again. However, it doesn’t take much to see the irony that this favourite farewell of Britain’s isn’t exactly put in to practise. Yes, there are many caring individuals in the UK (17 million according to Ecoute Theatre’s statistics) but as a country we are, you could surmise, uncaring, particularly when it comes to the elderly and vulnerable. 

It isn’t news that over the years the care system and the NHS have suffered the consequences of austerity. The tag line for Ecoute Theatre’s piece is: ‘meet the Care System–spoiler alert, it’s not doing so well.’ Indeed, the play works well because it sticks to this vibe, it doesn’t patronise us, assuming we don’t know the NHS is in turmoil, it just condenses some info we know and some that we don’t into a piece of theatre. 

Take Care is 100% verbatim. It is made up of interviews that Ecoute Theatre conducted with different people who are in some way affected by the care system. The four actors multi-role as these various interviewees to bring their stories to life. Often multi-rolling can feel like a series of alienating caricatures but their acting is strong and each new person we meet feels believable. Hal Geller and Zoe Templeman-Young particularly stand out to me with their versatility. Rather than just doing a different accent, which is perhaps the easiest way to multi-role, they utilise pitch and tone of voice wonderfully. Geller’s Dairylea-dunking care worker is miles off his ancient, diabetic grandfather yet both are equally believable.

All of the actors perfect the balance of making us laugh at the characters they are portraying as well as making us empathise with them. Indeed, to make comedy out of Alzheimers is a risky game but they do it well. I do however feel the joke where the grandmother points out the dwarf is a bit outdated and makes the audience uncomfortable.

We are hit with a lot of statistics in the piece. Ecoute Theatre have clearly done their research. Sometimes they let recorded speeches of various politicians do the talking, their promises painfully ironic in hindsight. The facts are important to make their play’s message as impactful as possible although sometimes it feels we are being ‘monologued’ at a bit too much and I lose focus in some parts. The relationship between the actors and the audience perhaps needs to be slightly clearer, I’m all for audience interaction as a method of engagement however sometimes when they ask a question they seem to want our participation and sometimes they don’t, which causes some confusion.

Take Care is a heartwarming piece of theatre and an important one. It captures the melancholia of old age; for the disenfranchised elderly and for the carers who are taken for granted and not rewarded for their work in our current system. It makes me remember what an amazing job carers do, particularly, as the play points out, the longer you are a carer the more you lose motivation as the more you realise you are unappreciated. It certainly makes me profoundly respect people who do dedicate their lives to caring. 

Vault Festival has now been cancelled, but you can read more about Ecoute Theatre on their website here.