New Diorama Theatre, London – until 16 June 2018
Becca gets to work at the local council and is immediately bundled into a police car. She’s not in trouble, but one of the people on her caseload is. She and her colleague Craig go to hospital to see a little girl that ‘fell out of bed’. Or to a shelter to meet with a young woman who is pregnant and addicted to huffing hairspray. Or to a school to check on a teenager being groomed by drug dealers. Every day she fights for their safety within a system on the brink of collapse. But how long can she go on like this?
Olivia Hirst’s play tells the story of a Britain that cares so much for the vulnerable, for the needy, for the neglected, for the future. It’s also a story of a Britain that doesn’t give a shit about these people that so badly need support. It’s about a Britain that’s strained and divided, both passionate and cold. It hurts and inspires, depresses and consoles. I’m exhausted when I leave from the conflicting urges to sob and rage.
Lucy Wray’s direction is as pacy and relentless as Becca’s working life never lets up until she signs off for the day. Even then, colleagues and contacts have her work mobile number and can call her at any time. She and her partner try to forge a peaceful domestic existence, but their work – he’s a teacher – never truly loosens its hold on them.
It’s no wonder people in these jobs are signed off with stress at record rates. Underpaid, overworked and constantly dealing with funding cuts and depleted resources, every single choice they make is under scrutiny from senior management. It takes its toll, both physically and mentally. Hirst captures this accurately and with feeling, effectively evoking pathos for the characters and anger with the system.
The script is too short, though. At only an hour long, we can only see a sampling of the characters’ lives. We get a sense for Becca and her colleagues, but her extensive portfolio of cases each only gets a few scenes. Though it’s easy to feel for Becca and her team, the kids are painted in broader strokes and it’s impossible to really grasp how difficult their lives are. The narrative takes flying leaps through time so we see the shadow of their stories, but many details are lost.
With an extra half an hour, the production would have a stronger grip on the audience through more fully developed, tangled worlds of these young people and those that are called to care for them. Excellent writing and grounded performances give this necessary piece a vibrancy that elevates and exposes the chaos resulting from Tory disdain for anyone but the rich and powerful.