Care Takers opens in an untypical stylised manner. The two cast members sit blankly facing the audience in front of the costumes into which they will change onstage to reflect the different scenes. Discordant electronic music by Jamie Summers creates an edgy atmosphere.
Director Cowan delivers a naturalistic approach for the play. He achieves the difficult task of having the crystal clear dialogue over-lap in a convincing manner. The play describes events that arise when experienced and aspirational deputy headteacher Mrs Rutter (Penny McDonald) becomes reluctant to respond to reports from a new teacher, Ms Lawson (Annamarie Bayley), that a pupil may be being bullied because of his sexuality.
The barriers to action are not contrived but realistically convincing. There is no proof other than circumstantial of the alleged offence, all procedures have been followed and the ethos of the Roman Catholic school make the governing body reluctant to take positive action that might be interpreted as promoting homosexuality. There are also the more mundane reasons such as lack of funds and the feeling that hiring a theatre company to show the virtues of tolerance is a bloody silly idea.
If the arguments on both sides are well articulated, Cowan’s script leaves the motives of the characters tantalisingly ambiguous. It is never clear whether Ms. Lawson is compelled to act by her own sexuality or if Mrs Rutter is using the procedures of the school to shield her own prejudices. The performances though bring out even more depth to the script. Ms Lawson may offer an articulate point of view but Bayley’s body language (eyes rolling and hands trust in pockets) suggests a sulky teen mad at the world. McDonald draws out the deep emotion that underlies the apparently calculating character of Mrs Rutter.
The really great thing about Care Takers is that it is possible to agree with the opinions of both characters and to condemn neither. Fine stuff, indeed.
- Dave Cunningham