Theatre Review: WHO CARES – The Lowry, Salford

Hard-hitting, emotional, and incredibly powerful, WHO CARES gives a vital insight into the lives of young carers across the country.

5 out of 5 stars

Adapted from real-life testimonies, award-winning theatre company LUNG examines the impact of austerity, our failing social care system and what happens when a child becomes the parent in their latest production, WHO CARES.

Set against a backdrop of blue school lockers, three actors are already on stage as the audience enters the intimate performing space, taking turns to take centre stage and control the music played over the studio speakers.

The scripts for this piece were created from real-life testimonies from the young people that The Lowry and Greater Manchester charity Gaddum worked closely with. As the lights go down and the music quietens, we begin to hear the stories of three young carers, Connor, Paige and Nicole, as they hurriedly describe their morning routines. Taking the audience through their day, the performance takes the style of documentary theatre, as each character communicates via short monologues, occasionally speaking in unison to highlight shared experiences.

Most of the piece occurs in school, though there are also glimpses of the characters speaking more openly in a group therapy session. While the characters all exist in the same setting, and their struggles are similar, they don’t interact with one another throughout most of the piece, highlighting the loneliness and isolation often felt by young carers.

The performance is interspersed by portrayals of various professionals from across the social work system and third sector, and the actors briefly embody the parents of the three main characters. Each of these snippets is accompanied by a dramatic shift in energy levels. Delivered in near darkness and with little background noise, the absence of disorder during these short scenes accurately drives home how chaotic and frantic the lives of young carers are.

Credit must be given to Luke Grant, Lizzie Mounter and Liyah Summers for how well they can personify such drastically varied characters. They mostly rely on voicework, with the lack of lighting leaving the audience unable to see any facial expressions or physical mannerisms.

Despite being a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre, the message that drives performance also speaks volumes. Many audience members were in tears as they felt the frustration of the characters failing to be recognised as authorised young carers and so unable to accompany parents to medical appointments and collect prescriptions.

The script delivers some hard-hitting facts and figures throughout the performance. 1 in 12 young people care for someone. Young carers miss, on average, 48 days of school a year for their caregiving duties. 68% of young carers are bullied. There are estimated to be around 800,000 young carers in the UK, and due to the reduction of face-to-face services throughout the pandemic, meaning that a higher number than usual will have gone unnoticed, this could be far more.

WHO CARES is an incredibly powerful and important piece of educational theatre that gives a vital insight into the lives of young carers across the country. It has been delivered in the House of Lords and is available as a radio play on BBC Sounds. More information around their ongoing work, including trialling policy recommendations, can be found at Who Cares Campaign.

WHO CARES runs at The Lowry, Salford, until 17 November 2021.