Edinburgh Festival: Take Care (4 stars)

It’s no great revelation that the care system for the sick and elderly isn’t working. Open a newspaper, turn on the TV, and you’re likely to come across reports about the ageing population and what the government is or isn’t doing about this.

But what this insightful and sharply performed piece of verbatim theatre shows is something fresh – the people behind the headlines doing the caring. And they’re a fascinating group, made all the more so by the fact we never usually get to hear from them.

Devised and performed by Zoe Templeton-Young, Sam McLaughlin, Cathy Lynch and Tom Wright, it is based upon interviews with carers from across the country. There are professionals, paid around £6 an hour (while the private companies hiring them get more than double) and people looking after relatives, who are expected to live off £55 a week when it would cost the state £740 a week to do the same job.

The numbers become more than just dry figures when they’re a backdrop for the “little stories” we get to hear from the carers: a former office worker, a young graduate, a man who divides his time between nursing and art and speaks more eloquently than any politician.

“You think he’s gasping his last breath,” a smiling woman explains of her loved one, “But that’s just the way he is.”

There are revelations that should be shocking but are unfortunately all too familiar. A man with a broken hip is repeatedly allowed to injure himself in hospital. An older carer describes how, only a few decades ago, people were tied to commodes with tights because they had dementia.

Is caring simply about feeding and cleaning or something more? We hear Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt give a speech claiming, as we all would, that it’s the latter. Less clear is why, in that case, carers get paid so little – something that would stand in the way of many of us looking after our own family members. “Society doesn’t value carers,” a woman says, “but that’s society’s loss.”

Written for The Scotsman

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