Image: The Courtyard
A house in Birmingham has the constant glow of the TV, anthems of the 1970’s youth and a smell that lingers no matter how much the rooms are cleaned.
Cheryl is anxious for the love which her illiterate, football watching, beer gurgling Terry is unable to give.
Both manage to ignore the haunting cries coming from the cupboard whilst throwing in left over food.
The flat is feeling more enclosed than ever but all they have hidden in the cupboard seems to be finding itself into every corner of the house, Cheryl and Terry are willing to do anything to make the crying stop.
Writer Roy Mitchell wrote this play back in 1977 while he was still a student.
It was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in 1983 and doesn't seem to have had an airing since.
In a way that's not so surprising, given that it asks us to consider an extraordinary situation which, on the face of it at least, seems unlikely and remote from most people's experience.
Care takes us back to the Midlands of the 1970's, complete with wallpaper sporting those oppressively outlandish designs which were fashionable at the time.
The story - which deliberately plies a disturbing concept to make its point - revolves around a young married couple Terry, played by Marc Benga, and Cheryl (Karen Mann).
They are a naive pair who have found reaching adulthood an awkward and difficult journey, having had to largely rely on each other without suitable support from mature relatives, friends or the state.
Terry gets Cheryl to read him bits from the newspaper and flips through The Beano annual because he can't read.
He's a football fan who re-enacts goals scored on the football pitch in the middle of the lounge, makes a mess of the house and readily drinks to excess on visits to the pub.
Cheryl on the other hand is more practical, rather more grown up and finds herself frequently nagging her spouse into being more tidy.
Though they are often clumsily awkward in each other's company, it's obvious that they are in love and find something in each other which meets their needs.
But they have a strange and unsettling secret which resides in the cupboard at the back of the living room, creates an all-pervading smell and which they feed.
And at one point Terry sings songs to it, like a father singing to his child.
Though it's never stated explicitly, the implication is pretty clear and that raises considerable moral issues as well as some nagging and distracting practical considerations that potentially serve to muddy our comprehension of just what has happened and why.
However, I don't think it's necessary to regard everything here as wholly naturalistically real - if we regard the cupboard and its contents as a device, at least in some ways, then we can focus on the real issues which the play aims to examine.
Suffice it to say, though, that we are not dealing here with a demented pair of psychopaths, as the remainder of the play explains.
Two other characters figure in the second act - another couple who have children of their own.
In Emily Marshall's production, these two appear rather deliberately comedic, which comes across as being somewhat unnecessarily forced - a case where a little less could actually have turned out to be a whole lot more.
However, there's capable work from Karen Mann and Marc Benga in the lead roles, providing characters adrift in a world they haven't yet learned to comprehend, and where past decisions still haunt them and their future.
An interesting interview with the writer, Roy Mitchell, and director Emily Marshall is available here.
In it, Mr Mitchell says that what the audience take away from his play is "... up to them".
That doesn't leave us with much to go on in terms of his actual intentions, but for me this is a play about how lack of nurturing and guidance for those lurching uncertainly towards adult responsibilities can lead to tragic decisions and consequences.
The play takes a frustratingly lengthy time to disclose its purpose, and the dialogue - though realistic and appropriate in many ways - does grate a little at times, but perhaps necessarily so.
It's certainly a poignant drama at times, with a smattering of comedy (including one very funny joke) and still imbued with some powerful relevance even in the realms of the 'nanny state'.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for The Courtyard
Our show listing for Care
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