Care, Courtyard Theatre

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by guest critic Harry McDonald

Time passes and we pass with it, but how do you measure getting older? Do you read wrinkles or responsibilities? Or did you never learn to read?

The Courtyard’s revival of Roy Mitchell’s Care, last produced in 1983 at the Royal Court Upstairs and now presented by the Angus McKay Foundation, interrogates a fraught young couple living in Birmingham in the 1970s. Childlike in their domestic play – bouncing between football, music,  comic books and sex – each lover attempts to survive the other’s presence over a long Easter weekend. And yet there is a third person present. Don’t children always make the scariest ghosts?

The opening scenes are like a slow wade through Brad Pitt’s wail, ‘What’s in the box?’, but ‘What’s in the art deco cupboard?’, in this case. Kudos to designer Isobel Power Smith, whose scraggy set exudes theatrical charm: most notably with a hideous serpentine pot holder. Cleverly, and early on, Mitchell’s script moves beyond vague pronouns and minor acts of care towards the cupboard, refocusing instead on the domestic banality of the abusers. We are not left waiting to discover what terrible secret is being concealed; but once we know, like Cheryl and Terry, we have to live with it.

Marc Benga’s excellent performance as Terry sustains the pace of the evening, rallying whenever the air grows thin, and landing ever more effective emotional blows as the piece goes on. Most effectively, Benga manages to render his character’s sexism as charming: pure in it naivety and insidious in its prominence. Director Emily Marshall’s attention to detail in the more physical aspects of the production does not go unnoticed. Terry’s playfights with Cheryl, portrayed by Karen Mann, evoke a smile and yet a genuine a sense of physical dominance never wholly goes away.

The tech will tighten in time, and any missteps ware minor, although greater clarity of sound design would help the production as a whole. The nightmare of soft wails wavering through the dark; the problem you try to forget about insisting its presence in sound; these frightening possibilities are never quite as present as they should be. Nevertheless, with notable performances and a solid (if not sparkling) script, this is a horror story of growing up worth enduring.

Care runs through 14 May.

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