With the current pandemic crisis facing the NHS, it is timely for Écoute Theatre to revive its verbatim piece on informal carers and social care funding.
Take Care was first presented as a live theatre piece at the 2020 Vault Festival. The script was also selected as one of five to be published in the accompanying book Plays from VAULT 5.
Written by Sam McLaughlin and Zoë Templeman-Young (who also directs), from a variety of interviews with those in the care system, Take Care is now a strong, brave film which works well with its episodic structure.
The same cast of four return to this revised piece, which again opens with Pam trying to get her mum moved to a nursing home nearer to her. This opens out to discussions of government ineptitude and underfunding, and funny stories of those who need help and support.
Grace Saif (as Pam, plus three other characters) highlights both the inadequacies of official recognition for those who care for elderly relatives, and the often blackly amusing side of heartbreak living with a person who has irrevocably changed personality.
Hal Geller remains the only male in the cast, which recognises that unrecognised carers are more likely to be female, and burdened with other wider responsibilities. He shares speeches from previous Health Secretaries Lansley and Hunt, and one of his characters muses on where all the money goes which those in care put into the system.
McLaughlin and Templeman-Young explain at the start of the piece that it came about because both found themselves becoming informal carers when relatives needing assistance moved into their homes. Neither would change the fact (“because old people can be f-ing hilarious”), but Take Care makes sure to expose the neglect within the system.
A system where time, money and profit is often prioritised above the welfare of those who are resident in homes, visited by carers, or simply seen as bodies rather than rounded people. A sequence with two elderly people in a care home gives a glimpse into the people they were. That they are, despite their dementia and incapacity.
Take Care is an impassioned case for societal responsibility, and public funding. Successive governments have outsourced parts of the NHS to make it a machine for profit rather than for the purpose it was intended. Easy to cut it more when balance sheets are involved.
Carers are often underpaid (if at all) and unsupported; care homes have moved from council-run to private enterprise (often charging £700 a week for the privilege of a home, meals and rudimentary personal care).
As a film, I found Take Care had much more impact this time around. As a stage piece its message was strong, but I sometimes got lost with which character was which. The new presentation is excellent. The sound design and music by Matt Kirk is understated but fits well with the piece; especially when it comes to echoing the words of those in power.
Take Care is “dedicated to the unheard carers”, and importantly, it gives them a voice. We should listen, and we should be angry. We are letting down our older population as their health declines, and those who give their time and strength to care for them. At the end, we hear that Pam has made some progress with the powers-that-be, which is good news for one story: but what of the others?
Now streaming as part of the Living Record Festival until 22 February, Take Care is also accompanied by a series of Unheard Stories that are free to watch on Ecoute Theatre’s YouTube channel.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Take Care.
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