– reviewed by James Webster –
Sophia Walker‘s Can’t Care, Won’t Care is a brilliantly traumatic show. Walker reaches into your guts with powerful, grasping words and twists until the tears squeeze out of your eyes. It’s hard to sit through; achingly, emotionally, superbly written and performed. Harrowing would be a good word.
It’s cleverly put together. A care worker is on trial for negligent homicide. Questioned by a stiff, regulation-obsessed prosecutor whose voice drips with privilege (also played by Walker), we are given an insight into the life of the care worker, the reasons they’ve broken the rules in the past, as well as anecdotes about the various service users she’s come across. It’s a nice device that gives Walker the chance to put herself, the care system and the justice system on trial before the audiences. The focus switches between intense, heart-wrenching personal anecdotes to big political arguments about the health of the care industry amidst wide-spread cuts that make the job of carers increasingly impossible to do by the book.
The show’s biggest strength is its near overpowering emotion. Walker spits feeling and words at the prosecutor and audience as she describes the buckling system and decries the cuts that endanger lives. It’s an intense look into a very human side of this much-debated issue and the concrete examples of governmental double-standards (such as declaring a wheelchair-bound, non-verbal service user “fit for work”) hit home hard. We see how these impossible situations make life dangerous for both the service users and front-line carers, as the cuts force shoddy standards and the shadow of “neglect” feels always one mistake away from putting a carer’s career in jeopardy (the chilling statement “Neglect – it’s a threat. It’s power” sent chills down me).
Indeed, the script is full of little, quiet moments of poignancy, beautifully, passionately and simply written; Walker wields words so strongly they might break you.
So the piece sees at once Walker putting the state on trial for failing those it should support, while she herself is put on trial for a death that occurred in her care … but the most heart-rending moment is when she takes herself to task. After spending most of the show defending her actions, it’s all the more affecting when she judges her actions so harshly. It’s not the state’s judgement she cares about, it’s her own and, more importantly, that of her deceased service user.
Which leads to a problem. As utterly overwhelming as the show is, the prosecutor comes across as a bit of a straw man, composed of nothing more than an upper-class accent, Tory leanings and a long list of rules. Which could be the intent, but it makes the argument between the two slightly unsatisfying (especially when it becomes clear the only judgement Walker is willing to accept is her own) and makes it feel like the show’s legal conceit isn’t taken full advantage of. Which is also true of the role of the audience: Walker sets us up as the jury of the piece, so it felt somewhat odd to me that more wasn’t made of that role. The issue is somewhat swallowed by the outstanding weight of feeling and crushing poignancy behind the piece, but it did feel that there was a certain amount of unfulfilled dramatic potential, which prevented the show from being truly breathtaking.
Still, I urge you to see this vital, fascinating and fierce show. Be warned: the mixture of emotional impact and furious wordsmithery may well wreck you.
Star Rating: 4/5