Written by Rhona McAdam
Directed by Mark Kydd
Mother knows best. Right?
Well, for Gillian, her daily thoughts weigh a touch more than the usual stresses the mother of a teenage son. Taking inspiration from their own experiences from caring for her disabled son, Ruairidh, Rhona McAdam’s Caring is not a biographical piece – and a means to strike with audiences both familiar, and unfamiliar, with caring for, or having been cared for family, friends, or clients.
It is Joey’s 15th birthday, and just like any teen he just wants to have some cider, indulge in a violent videogame, and maybe let his mother make a birthday cake for him – but act like it’s not a big deal.
The mundanity of it all is what McAdam’s captures instantly, and though the physical limitations of Joey’s muscular dystrophy are set out from the start, the relationship the pair have is no different than that of any mother and son. But when a piece of dry cake goes down the wrong way, this simple culinary error highlights a more visceral fear for Gillian, and a more reliant relationship for teenage son Joey. Where other families might have a stroppy teen who is not happy about the flavour or coddling, for Joey and Gillian, a moment of ill-conceived thought or a dry cough could lead to something more life-altering.
McAdam’s script is as much a piece of motherhood in general, as it is specifically tailored to care work, and it is something Laverne Edmond’s captures as Gillian from the onset. Dividing the stage in half between Gillian’s kitchen and a revolving world of Joey’s bedroom and hospital ward, Laverne Edmond’s portrays an incredibly sympathetic, but strong-minded and determined mother who tris their hardest in everything. But sometimes it is too much, and the fatigue Edmond’s conveys is painful to watch, especially for those familiar with those specific forms of exhaustion.
As the intensity of Gillian and Joey’s situation builds to over-bearing, McAdam’s script dips into the more absurdist elements, and initially Mark Kydd’s direction is unsure of how heavily to lean into the elements of the surreal – but it does eventually find a humorous footing as it continues. If anything, it could do with leaning more into the hallucinations, which ramp the atmosphere of disorientation and fear from Joey’s perspective. Throughout Fraser Allan Hogg has been a normal teen, but it is in these later scenes with the presence of something otherworldly, or the ventilators and medical equipment, that the fragility – both physicality and emotionally, comes over in performance.
Caring, despite the premise, is more so a melodrama on the fragility of relationships and life. Of Joey’s relationship with his mother and himself as he becomes an adult, and Gillian’s lament of both her marriage and duties as a mother. Acting as a go-between, a soothsayer, a guru, an over-worked nurse, and Joey’s pal Paul – Dale McQueen brings an additional dimension with various ensemble roles – often adding a much-needed break in pacing.
McAdam’s Caring has the foundations of an excellent piece, a show which sparks conversation, and one which speaks to more people than at first realised. Its writing has frayed edges, where the flow of narrative is behind the pursuit of emotion or the less subtle humour. There’s tremendous potential here with Kydd’s direction, and if further leant into the surreal nature – could be touching and clever production on the mindset of those experiencing the limitations and complexities of guilt and irritation at being cared for.
Further information about Caring, and the Citadel Arts Group may be obtained from their website here.