Review by Harry Bower
Warning: This is a show which delightfully draws in its audience and offers a twist in the narrative. If you are able to watch the show and would prefer not to read spoilers, you are advised to bookmark this review and return once you have done so…if not, read on!
The famous advice Jonathan Larson’s agent gives him in the recent film adaptation of Tick Tick Boom, is to “write about what you know”. It’s unclear as to whether or not Written Off Theatre, the team behind Careless, have ever seen that film or been given similar advice but you have to assume they have taken that premise and run with it. They have produced a raucous and hilarious hour-long comedy drama which is both relatable and unpredictable in equal measure.
The company is made up of Emma François and Eva Tritschler, both brought up by key workers and both passionate about amplifying the voice of such a selfless profession in their writing. Careless gets pretty meta in its approach, contrasting a workaholic carer with a young struggling actor who scoffs at a career of fringe theatre and is trying to make it in the arts by... *cough cough*, writing a play.
These two characters are best friends living together in London and their lives, priorities and attitudes could not be more different. Sam is the care assistant working all hours of the day to clean and bath old people (and their genitals), and Bryony the aspiring actor. Both have been written with such a broad depth that it is not hard to imagine the pair featuring in a dedicated sitcom about their lives. In fact, that’s basically what the first thirty minutes or so of the show is, a laugh-a-minute intelligent and modern comedy about two super relatable characters going about their lives.
We watch Bryony preparing for her 25th birthday party that night and suffering with indecision about recording an interview tape for an upcoming shampoo brand advert while drinking prosecco from her Love Island-style white plastic flute. Tritschler’s Bryony is wonderfully basic and frustratingly oblivious, lacking self-awareness in the most joyous of ways. She provides most of the snort-worthy moments in the piece and yet somehow endears herself to the audience. We all know a Bryony – the type with misguided belief in the strength of their own ability which only serves to hide their true insecurities deep down, so unable to consider the feelings of others that they come across selfish despite the lack of malice.
Later we are introduced to Sam, arriving home from another stressful day caring for her clients at the home, already overwhelmed by the prospect of having to host people at the pair’s house party. François plays Sam with a tangible exhaustion and lack of focus which is undoubtedly relatable for so many in the audience, and a wry sense of humour and stoic personality which is as critical as it is sarcastic. Fortunately, there is enough star quality in the delivery of the sharp dialogue that we warm to Sam as much as we do Bryony.
The relationship between the pair is playful and believable. There is clearly a great chemistry between François and Tritschler which directly translates to a barnstorming performance. This chemistry amplifies the feeling that we the audience are flies on the wall, looking through the window at a snippet of a real friendship developed over many years. That sense of believability interlaced with humour lulls the audience into a false sense of security, like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. What happens around halfway through the show rips that warm blanket away, and then sets fire to it.
Telling dark and dramatic stories with humour is not a new premise, but in Careless it is done exquisitely. When the twist comes it is a genuine open-mouthed moment. I turned to my friend on my right-hand side and for a good half second, we both looked like we were doing an impression of a vacuum cleaner. Audible gasps spread around the room like a soundwave emitted from a speaker. You might think I’m exaggerating, dear reader, but I’m not.
We find out that Sam has had a really difficult day at work, with the death of one of her regular clients. She seems him every day, and today, he has passed away. She describes that moment in a visceral and vivid way, before explaining an out of character lunchtime trip to the pub which leads to a shocking revelation.
What follows is a superb physical-theatre infused house party in which we watch Sam and Bryony struggle with their emotional and moral dilemmas, the relationship between the two of them flexing and bending with the narrative, threatening to pull everything apart.
As the play storms towards its conclusion, we are left to consider the impact of burnout on our key workers and the general lack of humanity toward the jobs nobody wants to do. That is coupled with the part of the play included as a bit of light relief, the struggling actor, but that also has something to say. How can we expect our arts scene to continue to thrive when living in the city and other cultural hubs costs a million pounds a year on rent alone?
The writing in Careless is brilliant throughout. Together the authors have created characters with untold depth which would not be out of place on the small screen. The dialogue is witty, self-aware and razor-sharp. Its humour is self-deprecating in the best of ways and it doesn’t pull its punches when commenting on societal norms and attitudes towards key workers. By drawing its audience in and slamming the brakes on with the twist it achieves the shock-effect which I enjoyed, but can understand why some might find it jarring or uncomfortable.
I loved watching this show and can see a bright future ahead for Written Off Theatre. I also hope this isn’t the end of the line for Bryony and Sam; by the end of the piece I had genuine emotional investment in both characters and the ending came as somewhat a disappointment for reasons I won’t spoil here.
Careless was a fantastic way to spend an hour. Illustrating a clash in mindsets and personalities between two best friends in a modern style and setting, it is relatable and funny yet strangely poignant. A little show by a theatre company with a big future.
Careless plays at VAULT Festival until 26 February 2023. Find out more: https://vaultfestival.com/events/careless/. For future information about the show and where it may play next, visit https://twitter.com/Written_Off_.