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Acting up

Tyneside theatre group turns spotlight on care crisis

By Andy PottsPublished about a month ago 3 min read
Placards created as part of Sharon Bailey's "I CARE" project

There’s something unexpectedly empowering about disturbing the peace. A quiet Tuesday lunchtime in Newcastle’s Grainger Market was jolted into life with shouts of “Who cares? I care!” Amid placards highlighting the crisis in social care, we joined a small group on the march.

This was all part of the performance. “Two Sides of the Same Coin,” a new work by Open Clasp Theatre Company’s Catrina McHugh, based on an art project by Sharon Bailey, is a powerful dissection of how Britain is failing to support those who care for our most vulnerable.

Catrina’s script pulls no punches. At times, it’s a difficult watch, triggering raw emotions among anyone who has spent time providing support for friends or relatives in need. One of its greatest achievements is the way it uncovers the vast, overstretched extent of unpaid or underpaid care that precariously protects a dangerously creaking system from total collapse.

Beth Crame and Judi Earl on stage in Open Clasp Theatre's performance of "Two Sides of the Same Coin" at Newcastle's Grainger Market.

Sharon, who began her exploration of the state of social care in Britain with 2019’s Home Alone, emphasised that while the short play is a work of theatre, it is rooted in real-life experiences.

“Nothing of that was made up,” she said. “Back in September, I started to collect stories. I had support from the councils in Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Durham, and I worked all over those regions. I shadowed carers as they visited homes and went to lots of carer meetings.”

The diaries from those visits went to Open Clasp Theatre where Catrina – “a most incredible writer” – turned them into a compelling 30-minute play. It puts the words into the mouths of two carers, one paid, one unpaid, expressing their frustrations and fears for the people who depend on them. By turns angry, poignant, defiant and appalled, “Two Sides of the Same Coin” was powerfully brought to life by actors Beth Crame and Judi Earl and director Rachael Walsh.

Placards outside the Grainger Market's cafe

At the same time, Sharon was working with carers to produce the placards – 140 of them – that decorate the market, helping to draw attention to the issue.

“The system is really on its knees, it’s in desperate need of support. A lot of caregivers, paid and unpaid alike, are on the brink.

“I knew that I had to tell this side of the story, of the care that is needed to allow people to live at home independently, to live well and happy.”

For Catrina, who received an MBE for her work to provide a voice for women through the theatre, this is part of a bigger problem. It’s one that affects many areas of society, from the prison service to children removed into care.

“All our systems are broken,” Catrina said. “All of them. Everything needs a government to come in with a different approach. Whichever government we have needs to bring an overview of everything. We need to invest in our communities, in the places where people feel connected and happy.

“Every project I’m involved with at the moment exposes how everything is broken. There’s no investment in the local community, in the future. People need to be connected and care for, not just ignored.”

Performances like those at the Grainger Market can help people to forge connections. But there’s a bigger picture.

“Theatre can create empathy,” Catrina added. “We can put these stories in front of people.

“If people see a play like this, maybe they start asking why carers are not properly paid. In the election, when people knock on the door asking for votes, we have to ask what they are doing for carers – paid and unpaid. Hopefully it should help people ask the right questions.

“The challenge is to get these voices in front of the people in power, the politicians and the ministers of whichever government we have after the election.”

Sharon concludes: “These placards and the newly-commissioned play, “Two Sides of the Same Coin”, are made for all of you who care. It’s made in the hope that change can and will happen and that projects like this can play their part.”

Two Sides of the Same Coin will be performed at the Grainger Market on Wednesday, June 12 at 12 noon and 2pm. Then the show moves to Jarrow Hall on Saturday, June 15.

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About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

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Comments (2)

  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    Caregivers should get the utmost respect always. This was, as usual, an excellent article. I want to hope the result of the election will mean that carers get a better deal but who knows?

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    It is sad that the caregivers all over are not paid more. Scripting a 30 min play is incredible!! We need more people like those described here. ❤️ More people viewing this type of work, caring and taking action.

Andy PottsWritten by Andy Potts

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