Speaking as someone who has no previous experience of the UK care system, Leaving by Paddy Campbell painted an illuminating, educational, endearing and at points heart-wrenching picture of the lives of the people involved in that system.
Built from interviews with nearly 20 people; from care workers to politicians to the young people who are forced to leave care at 18, this is a piece of verbatim theatre with a difference. Using ‘Recorded Delivery’ technique, the actors on stage are equipped with headphones through which the voices of the original interviewees are played. The actors then act as a voice-piece, relaying these interviewees’ responses to the audience.
This results in performances which are as true as possible to the original characters being portrayed and which, in that, are powerful, real, believable, direct and engaging. At turns laugh out loud funny and intensely poignant, the show communicates the emotional and practical strain involved in various aspects of the care system, the dangers of mismanagement and lack of funding, but also the love and humour and joy of some of the friendships formed. The day to day normality is there as strongly as the wider political message the show has, which makes the latter all the more powerful.
The stories are woven together in a formula which at points feels similar to that of a television documentary, but with a tenderness and intelligence that elevates the work above that
There is sometimes perhaps a danger in verbatim theatre to lose a sense of over-arching narrative in the attempt to be truthful to the people involved, but that danger is not present here. The stories are woven together in a formula which at points feels similar to that of a television documentary, but with a tenderness and intelligence that elevates the work above that. More highly dramatic sections in which the audience are asked to don their own provided headphones and listen to composed soundscapes intercut with choppy dialogue break up the pace of the show very effectively. These sections, while not taken directly from interviews, were also built in conjunction with the interviewees in workshops. We see at one point, for example, the inner thoughts and confusion of a teenage girl during a meeting with her care operators. There is a strong sense therefore that the people who are being portrayed have been involved at absolutely every stage of this show, and the result is a level of truth that feels raw in its emotional content and yet structured exceedingly well.
The physicality, movement and visual landscape of the show are also well choreographed and crucially effective. Writer Paddy Campbell and director Amy Golding seem to have worked closely together on this piece and their input compliments each other beautifully.
The performances of the actors are likewise incredibly strong across the board. In the post-show discussion it was suggested that the ‘Recorded Delivery’ technique allows for a lack of ego in performance, and this comes across; the performances felt powerfully truthful, with each actor skipping fairly effortlessly, for the most part, between incredibly distinct and defined voices and characters, though it could be said that they felt most comfortable when working within North-East accents. In terms of vocal and physical range, Rosie Stancliffe was particularly exceptional, as was Matt Howdon, who displayed a clear and vulnerable emotional connection with his characters, and shone.
I find it difficult to criticise this show. There were points at which the interview questions were played into the auditorium for the actors to answer and once or twice the writer Paddy’s name was mentioned in the text. This edged towards feeling like a distraction at points from this being a communication with us in the audience; perhaps a little too much of the ropes shown. This is, however, a minor quibble in what was a moving and immensely thought provoking piece of theatre.
The post-show discussion touched upon the fact that the interview process seemed to be in a sense cathartic for many of the participants involved. As Amy Golding put it, ‘sometimes being asked is enough.’ Mention was also given to the afterlife of the show and the express desire on the part of producers Curious Monkey to get the work before politicians and policy makers. This is encouraging. This feels like a clever political and human piece of theatre with a real potential to make a significant difference.