Peta Dennis plays the daughter who has the sole responsibility of having to look after her increasingly frail father. We watch as she tries to persuade her busy brother on the phone to have some involvement in the situation but is only met with excuses and we also witness her struggle with the bureaucracy of social services as she is asked to provide correct reference details when all she is after is some kind of support. The Dad in the piece is portrayed by at first a life-sized puppet but as his condition worsens his physical body becomes smaller and more delicate as his mental condition becomes more fragile. This transforming of his physical state is beautifully done and as she baths a shrunken version of her father it really brings home how the parent child relationship has been irrevocably reversed.
The above synopsis of the show might sound like a depressing watch but the company have managed to produce a piece of theatre which is warm-hearted and real but never strays into sentimentality. The production uses various forms of puppetry, super 8 style family movies, aerial physicality and music to create an entirely immersive and nostalgic atmosphere which stayed with me long after the show had finished.
The stage is covered with the music loving father’s old records and through playing these old tunes the father and daughter find their one remaining source of real connection. There is one particularly poignant moment when the father who is struggling with everyday tasks mentally comes alive again when the daughter light-heartedly tests him on naming who played on a particular record and the year it was released. As the father’s memory briefly comes alive and he correctly answers the trivia the daughter fleetingly sees the man her father once was.
Peta Dennis is excellent as the daughter whose initial up-beat energy is chipped away gradually by the struggles of caring for her Dad and who has to watch as the person she knew slowly slips away from her. Adam Fuller’s Dad is brilliantly handled puppetry and never falls into caricature but rather I really felt I knew the man the father once was and as the dementia worsened it was heart-breaking to watch his obvious fear, confusion and sadness at what was happening to him.
My Baby Just Cares for Me is a very special show indeed and one which stays in the memory for a long time after. It reminds us of how fragile life can be but also shows the beauty and tenderness at the heart of human relationships.