The Theatreguide.London Review
Hampstead Theatre Summer 2015
Caroline (Sharon Small) is a social worker in the American equivalent of Child Protective Services, and when a teenaged druggie couple neglect their baby she rightly takes it from them.
Fortunately the girl's mother is willing to take the child temporarily, and keeping things in the family is the preferred route. But Grandma is a Rapture-anticipating Jesus freak determined to keep the baby permanently to save her soul, and Caroline finds her sympathy switching back to the young couple.
Along with rehab and counselling she crosses a line and starts coaching them in how to testify, to the point of telling lies, to win the baby back.
But what if they turn out not to be lies? And what if Caroline has her own personal reasons for identifying with the girl and resenting the mother? And what if Caroline's disputes with her male boss are not entirely professional? And what if he is carrying on his own backstairs campaign for the other side, for reasons of his own? And what if . . . ?
You may have spotted the central flaw in Rebecca Gilman's otherwise admirable drama. To make her point that cases like this are rarely simple, pure or black-and-white, she piles on the revelations and complications.
But what may be an accurate reflection of the reality that the Carolines of the world live and work in is nonetheless theatrical overkill that eventually becomes ineffectual and even annoying. And so even the not-really-but-almost-happy ending seems contrived and manipulative.
This is the sort of play that would be immensely useful in a training course for budding Carolines, to be followed up by 'What should she have done here?' discussions and improvisations.
But to hold an audience, even one sympathetic to Gilman's vision, less would have been more.
Sharon Small admirably carries most of the play on her shoulders as Caroline, though she sometimes has to struggle to make each new twist or revelation fit into the character as we've seen her so far.
The other people in the play are all written to be single-topic forces pulling Caroline one way or another, and while the entire cast work admirably under Michael Attenborough's able direction, only Alex Arnold in the relatively small role of the baby's father is able to suggest that there might be more than one dimension to his character.
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