A pub closing down may not be the end of the world for most people (after all, even the smallest rural village can house several of them), but for someone like Jamie it’s not as simple as that. Forced into a move up north from London when the lift packed up in his council estate, in four years the only place he’ll consider for a night out is The Crown; increasingly conscious of his Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, it feels like a risk to stray too far in case his mobility fails him – plus in his local he doesn’t feel judged. Just Add Milk return to The Vaults after last year’s VAULT Festival hit Digging Deep with Conor Hunt’s Who Cares, presented in aid of Muscular Dystrophy UK.
Muscle-wasting conditions affect just over one in every 1,000 people (there are around 70,000 people in the UK living with one of the various forms), so consequently Muscular Dystrophy is probably not something that the general public know a huge amount about. What Hunt does very well in this play is raise awareness of Jamie’s condition through his fears and insecurities, placed in the context of austerity-ridden Britain. Our attention is naturally drawn to national corporations going bust, but the loss of small local businesses hit a community just as hard – if not harder.
The Crown is also where an unlikely friendship was formed, between “London boy” Jamie and drifter barman Daniel. Something that means a lot to Jamie is that Daniel sees him, not a disability; when he’s at The Crown he knows he can drink and banter without a care in the world. So on discovering that the pub is on the verge of closing down (losing Jamie his local and Daniel his job), they decide to throw the party to end all parties in a bid to save it – although whether Bradley Walsh will make it remains to be seen… But the plan is put into jeopardy when Daniel’s bid to publicise the event backfires.
Despite the important messages being relayed through the play, it’s all done with a lightness of touch and a healthy injection of comedy. The relationship between Daniel and Jamie (played by Kyle Rowe and Reece Pantry) feels very natural, as they quibble over Quavers, do their best Sonny & Cher, and come up with interesting techniques to practise flirting… The more serious moments are handled sensitively, as Daniel unquestioningly goes to his friend’s aid and really listens when he pours his heart out.
When destabilising things happen that are out of your control, it’s understandable for people to feel overwhelmed. Who Cares shows the light at the end of the tunnel and the power of friendships in a very funny – and very human – way.
My verdict? This funny and powerful two-hander shines a light on austerity Britain & Muscular Dystrophy – and underlines the power of friendship.
Who Cares runs at VAULT Festival until 23 February 2020. Tickets are available online or from the box office.