New Diorama Theatre, London – until 16 June 2018
You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see that there’s much wrong in today’s society. Homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse, people slipping through the cracks of ‘the System’. For those on the frontline as social workers, it is a Sisyphean task with precious little resources or support from the powers-that-be. Written by Olivia Hirst and directed by Lucy Wray, Lost Watch Theatre’s latest production addresses what it’s like to work in social services. Seen through the eyes of Becca (Rianna Dearden) we witness how one young woman tries to keep body and soul together when everything conspires to move the goalposts and the chances of success are weighted against those who want to help.
Becca is but one of a handful of people in her team, who all deal with ‘hopeless’ cases. Knowing how draconian the System is, Becca does her damnedest to help those who often ‘don’t help themselves’ and pursue clemency for them. Not everyone though is so vehement in their efforts to protect the people on their books from incarceration.
Line manager Joanna (Jennifer Daley) tries to help Becca as much as she can but adheres to the letter of the law. As for Craig (Adam Langstaff), the police liaison, the many years he’s spent in this role have eroded his empathy for those with ‘self-destructive’ tendencies and for women who won’t leave abusive husbands. On this matter, Becca vehemently disagrees, putting the blame firmly on the husbands/partners who physically intimidate their other halves.
Many of the cases on Becca’s books involve children and parents, which weighs heavily on Becca’s conscience – especially as she and her husband Phil (Jamie Samuel) are trying for a family. But while the parents and children she meets are in ‘less-than-ideal’ conditions, Left My Desk shows how woefully under-resourced social services are, with other personnel allowed to commandeer other staff’s hot desk computers if they’re away for 20 minutes. Then there’s the regular exodus from meeting room to meeting room because there’s only a limited amount of space for all the departments.
As grating as all of this is, what really wears Becca down is people making knee-jerk assumptions about her line of work, about the people she meets everyday and their ‘value’ as human beings. Becca’s only human, so over time we see accumulative fatigue and indignation set in, until she reaches breaking point. Her naked anger and frustration at that juncture is palpable; exacerbated by a regime that only pays lip service to helping the underprivileged and often tying the hands of the caring professions by ‘legal’ and economic means. While Dearden has always delivered top notch performances in Lost Watch shows, from an acting perspective the role of Becca is arguably her best yet, both nuanced and at times intense.
Left My Desk is based on research, interviews and testimonies – lending the production an air of authenticity and authority. Lost Watch productions have always been entertaining and had their finger on the pulse of today’s burning issues, but Left My Desk is something special. As the play points out, anybody who works in social services doesn’t do so because of the promise of money or prestige. It’s because they care. Yet so often, the powers-that-be deflect the blame of their policies onto those who work in ‘the System’. By having empathy for others, it leaves one open to disappointment and demoralisation. Yet if we didn’t have people who give a damn about those who ‘fall through the cracks’, how much worse would society be?
© Michael Davis 2018
Left My Desk runs at new Diorama Theatre until 16th June.
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