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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Theatre Review "Blue Boy" at Northern Stage

                                                             Jack McMillan, The Boy

I awoke early this Saturday morning to the unmistakable glow of snow through the window. The earliest snow I remember, settled ready for the October half term holiday. My son woke up, understandably excited, was cajoled into a warm dressing gown and slippers on top of his fluffy pyjamas despite his protests that he was "too warm". This is the sort of care I would rather all children had from their parents. But of course there are so many kids who don't have a safe home, who run out of places to turn, who have to be referred to social services to give them some kind of safe haven or to help the family work out its problems.

The social care system is woefully underfunded and those working in it are under immense pressure to deliver care under tighter and tighter budgets. Social workers have bigger and bigger caseloads. Managers have larger areas to cover. Children, despite all the good intentions of people who go into the sector to do a good job, becomes just another name on a list.

Margaret Wilkinson wrote this play influenced by the high profile cases a number of years ago, of children dying whilst in care. She wanted to imagine what it would be like to be blamed or blame oneself for the death of of the children in her care. Margaret uses the term "office gothic" for this claustrophobic tale of a haunted office worker. Reagan is working through the night under mountains of files trying to meet a deadline, when he is disturbed by a boy, apparently sleeping rough and seeking shelter in the office. The boy's presence becomes increasingly unsettling as Reagan is forced to guess his name, he should know it. The boy was one of his cases. That, Margaret says, is in parallel with the story of Rumplestiltskin as Reagan must "spin straw into gold" (sort out his cases) and guess the name by morning. The boy longs to be a real boy as did Pinocchio but memos, cutbacks, interventions, protection orders tick boxes, they don't get you a family.

In Blue Boy you are left wondering what Reagan must feel, who is the boy. Why is he here? Who is to blame?

Alex Elliott (whom I saw in Best in the World recently so inspiring, went back, took my son the second time) played Reagan in what looked to be an emotionally exhausting and draining performance. Getting  more tired and drunker as the story develops, Reagan's already cracked existence is picked apart by this sad and familiar presence. Jack MacMillan, who graduated from East 15 Acting School this year, played the boy. He did a fine job of making the boy hard to read, mildly threatening, manipulative, and yet innocent and yearning for a normal life.
                                                                Alex Elliott, Reagan

There were approximately 89, 000 "looked after" children in the UK in 2011. See the Blue Boy Website. The average number of cases held across the UK is 25, ranging from an average of 11 for students to 25 for qualified social workers who do not hold any management responsibilities and 30 for those who do. Newly qualified social workers hold 21 cases on average, 16% less than more experienced social workers. (source: Community Care website). By under-resourcing this service we are not only damaging the lives of those young people in care but the lives of those who have entered the profession with a desire to do good.

The play runs until Saturday 27th October at Northern Stage  Further dates in the Northeast:

30th October: Durham Town Hall as part of the Durham Book Festival
4th November Darlington Civic Centre at Central Hall, Dolphin Centre.
5-6th November Customs House, South Shields.

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