After two years interviewing young carers in Salford, LUNG Theatre present Who Cares - a searing portrayal of teenagers lost in the system. Daniel Perks reviews:

“Is this my life now”? It’s the realisation that, barely into his second decade, Connor (Luke Grant) must play the responsible one in the house. Who Cares for him?

“My life had to come second and that’s fine”, a heart-breaking statement from Jade (Jessica Temple) that being a young carer takes precedence over being a teenager. No Jade, it’s not fine at all.

Luke Grant, Jessica Temple & Lizzie Mounter

Who Cares is a voice for the hundreds of thousands of young carers living in the UK. Those receiving little to no support because they often go under the radar, unrecognised because a fundamentally failing, bureaucratic system doesn’t seem to care. Who Cares shouts into a void and hits an audience of sympathetic ears.

The production traces a typical day in the life of three teenagers – crowded buses, crowded hallways, crowded lunch queues. But what is also typical for these three is hidden from the rest of the world, with disabled parents at home depending on them to pick up prescriptions, cook and clean and wash and bathe them. That’s as well as doing homework and sleeping. Having a social life? Ha.

Cares Summerhall
LUNG Theatre

The research gone into Who Cares is impeccable, two years’ worth of interviews with young carers to create this verbatim piece that is as much theirs as it is LUNG’s. Matt Woodhead’s searing vision is honest and harrowing, but above all else he’s an incredibly generous creative. Woodhead realises that theatre is at its most powerful when it comes straight from the hearts of those it represents. And the young carers’ input can be creatively seen at every point of this narrative. It’s a true collaborative effort with Woodhead in the driving seat.

The beauty of Who Cares is that it’s entirely greater than the sum of its parts. Woodhead’s ability to piece together interviews into a coherent narrative is inspired, and his direction successfully keeps an audience engaged – periods of freneticism convey the natural melee of school life, while moments of silent pause give the characters the breath they need just to get through the day. Will Monks’ lighting and Owen Crouch’s sound designs effectively underpin both the external environment and the internal struggle. They dim when therapy sessions allow each teenager to have a voice, something Nicole (Lizzie Mounter) uses to spectacular effect.

But why are these teenagers put under so much pressure that they need therapy in the first place?!

Cares Summerhall
Lizzie Mounter, Luke Grant & Jessica Temple

Each of the ensemble (Grant, Mounter and Temple) take full advantage of their characters’ heart-breaking stories to give equally powerful performances. The narrative does little to interweave these stories and as such becomes episodic, a missed opportunity. But the three smile – is it a grimace? – as they go about their day, threatening to buckle under the myriad of pressures at every turn but somehow finding the strength and courage to keep going. It’s an admirable portrayal of resilient individuals living in circumstances beyond their control with no outside help. The empathy that washes over this audience is palpable, thick and heavy and understandably suffocating.

Cares Summerhall
Lizzie Mounter, Luke Grant & Jessica Temple

Who Cares is a rallying cry for society to do something about this injustice, a plea that is fast becoming LUNG’s trademark to stand up and make a difference. Because every day is a struggle for these characters simply to achieve the status quo, a challenge made all the more impossible when the rules constantly shift between their feet.

Who Cares is overwhelming. It’s affecting. It’s socially conscious theatre. It’s a chance for an audience to shout out, “WE CARE”!

★★★★☆

Who Cares is now playing at Summerhall until 25 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.