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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Where: Manchester
Venue: The Lowry

For a small studio piece, Truant Company’s Caretakers tackles a difficult subject in an expansive way. A two-hander, it focuses on the meetings and confrontations between the older Deputy Head, and the young idealistic new teacher when the teacher is convinced of bullying in her classroom.

Penny McDonald as Mrs Rutter excellently portrays the slightly cynical, experienced deputy, who’s hands are tied by systems, budgets and the morals involved in a Catholic school. To her, nothing is new. Her comment that the ones who care aren’t the ones who stay in teaching, while probably accurate, does strike a chord of alarm.

Ms Lawson, Annamarie Bayley, is a teacher who does care and wants action taken immediately when she feels something is wrong. Her portrayal is a stunning emotional and physical counterpoint. At the start she is closed physically and although passionate in her belief, more diffident to authority. As the play progresses she becomes more confident, her outburst becoming more explosive.

With a case of probable bullying against a thirteen year old who may be gay, the teacher battles against the system to get some action taken at an early stage. The deputy head while sympathetic is restrained by lack of evidence and the fact that as a Catholic school subjects like homosexuality cannot be covered within the curriculum. As the boy’s behaviour worsens, the meetings between the women become closer to battlegrounds, until both the meetings and the boy’s problems reach an unexpected climax.

Costume changes take place at the back of the simple set where the actors sit on opposite sides between scenes, the changes of blouse representing the movement of time. These changes though are done in character which emphasises how the worries and stresses are carried forward through each successive clash.

Billy Cowan is both writer and director. As the writer he has created a tight and powerful script which allows his actors to develop their characters within the limited space and time available. As the director he has produced a show which can only be applauded for not only tackling a difficult subject, but in tackling in a way which isn’t over dramatic but hits home with punch.

This show deserves to reach a bigger audience than the studio format allows. Go see it.

-Helen Jones