Review written by Flossie Waite
Presented by Tangled Feet and Half Moon
Half Moon Theatre
For ages 3-7
There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK, and a good handful were creative advisors to Tangled Feet’s latest production. Need A Little Help has the tricky job of balancing a theatrical experience, with the experiences of the young people it represents, but this production is considered, moving and playful.
From breakfast to bedtime, Ella (Sarah Calver) and Joe (Mario Christofides) are in tune, each playing their part in everyday routines: folding sheets, catching toast, letting out the cat. One day, Ella leaves for school; by the time she’s back, Joe has a silver tube where his arm used to be. As it gets longer, Joe becomes increasingly tied up, and Ella has to do more and more for him.
The audience take off their shoes and walk through a front door into Ella and Joe’s home. Need A Little Help feels very personal, whilst being vague on details so the audience can relate. The more non-specific the situation – the illness, Ella and Joe’s relationship – the easier it is to pick up the story and see how it applies and can be recognized elsewhere. What has happened to Joe is never explained and the words ‘sick’ and ‘ill’ are avoided. The silver tube’s presence is both unthreatening and very challenging; Ella tells Joe that his arm looks silly, that everyone is staring.
By repeating and building up Ella and Joe’s daily routines, it is clear when they begin to fall apart. Physical movement is a huge part of this performance and it changes: at first there are leaps and lifts and spins in the air, visions of trust and strength between the two that highlight their able-bodiedness and equal partnership. By the end, Ella is trying to carry Joe on her back, though Joe’s personal struggle is also recognised throughout; Ella says “I don’t like it”, Joe responds “Neither do I”.
Joe plays acoustic guitar at the very beginning, ushering in a quiet hush from the audience and creating the calm atmosphere for the play’s start. His increasing inability to play is unsettling. Guy Connelly’s sound design is an essential part of a production that explores every way to tell this story; from the sound to set to lights and on, each part assists with the narrative.The result is a cohesive, innovative, involving piece of storytelling.
The audience interaction gets a little chaotic as children are invited onto the stage, but delivered the most powerful moment in the performance I saw. In our first introduction to Ella, she is quietly playing with a pink feather; like Joe with his guitar, feathers are her favourite thing and appear throughout. As Joe’s arm gets more difficult to manage, Ella has to literally catch him whenever he falls, cacooning him with a pillow. Getting more and more tired, out of frustration she rips the pillow apart, and feathers fall everywhere. Afraid, exhausted, she says aloud, “I can’t do this on my own”. Before she even had the chance to begin her next line, the stage had been crowded, the children in the audience rushing forward to help her, diligently picking up feathers. For me, bringing out this level of instinctive engagement from the audience is the mark of a good play, showing it is connecting in all the right places.
This is the first in a trilogy of productions for Tangled Feet’s ‘Care’ season, and it comes at a pivotal moment. In April, new measures will mean that councils must seek to find young carers, and define what their needs are. But identifying carers is just the beginning – at the moment there are no provisions in place to ensure they receive assistance. In Need A Little Help, Ella only needs to ask and there are dozens of little arms stretching up to volunteer. On stage, she couldn’t cope on her own, but where else would she have a choice?
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