BBC Pebble Mill, Crossroads, New Faces, Heavy Metal, Tiswas. The Midlands (and Birmingham in particular) were an indelible part of the fabric of ’70s pop culture (back in the days when the UK had a fighting chance at the Eurovision Song Contest)! The period was also known for the seemless migration of playwrights working between the arenas of theatre and of television. Decades before he enjoyed fame as the co-creator of BBC programme New Tricks, Roy Mitchell made a name for himself in the theatre, with his premier play Care running at the Royal Court. It’s been more than 30 years since its last professional production, but The Angus Mackay Foundation has made a point of reviving the play with an ethnically-diverse cast at the Courtyard Theatre and Emily Marshall directing.
Cheryl and Terry are a young couple living in Birmingham. Terry (Marc Benga) is an avid football fan and back when he was a teenager, was considered for tryouts for neighbouring team Walsall. When he’s sober he’s laid back (though after he’s had a few it’s a different matter) and whenever he’s left alone, there’s nothing he likes better than to read his old Beano annual.
Cheryl (Karen Mann) is the responsible one of the two, wearing the trousers in the relationship. While she’s on Terry’s case a lot of the time, she puts up uncritically with certain aspects of his behavior – a reciprocal arrangement that keeps them together. And beyond this there is something that keeps them together, something locked away in a cupboard…
Terry’s aggressive disdain for Cheryl’s physical affection at times is ‘immature’ – like a pre-adolescent’s scorn for the opposite sex. However, this might be because a) he thinks this might lead to sex, which will lead to children (a no-no…) or b) it’s possible he’s in a relationship with his best friend’s wife Cathy (Jaana Tamra). When they’re all together, it’s very obvious something by her tactile manner she’s interested in Terry, mirroring Cheryl’s action as they both make a ‘claim’ on him…
Care for the most is a funny play that has a darkness at its centre. While the banter about drinking, football and television is fun (with Cheryl and Terry’s polarised reactions to watching Theatre of Blood particularly enjoyable, reminiscient of the BBC sitcom The Royle Family) once the laughter dissipates, the dark secret gnaws away at their serenity.
Looking back in hindsight, once you’ve figured out what’s behind the mystery smell in the cupboard, everything falls into place and makes sense – especially Cheryl’s instistence that food isn’t thrown on the fireplace grates to attract rats… The play’s funnier moments make us care for the characters, but they also serve to obfuscate the dark heart of the play until it’s ready to reveal itself…
© Michael Davis 2017
Care runs at the Courtyard Theatre until 14th May 2017.
CAST: Cheryl – Karen Mann, Terry – Marc Benga, David – Leo Shirley, Cathy – Jaana Tamra