Sophia Walker: Can’t Care Won’t Care
Banshee Labyrinth, Venue 156, 29-35 Niddry Street
August 10-24. 1:45-2:45pm
Review: Phoebe Walker
Sophia Walker trails an impressive list of poetry accolades behind, including the titles of BBC Slam Champion, 2012 Poetry Olympics Champion, and Edinburgh Book Festival Improv Slam Champion. Last year she won the PBH Best Spoken Word Show, which means that, unlike a hefty portion of the shows available on the Free Fringe, you don’t walk in completely clueless as to whether you’re going to see something good. You are. There are no laughs here (although Walker tells us it’s fine if we find some of it funny), just a performance of unrelenting power. Designating the audience as her jury, Walker fashions a courtroom out of her performance and delivers two sides of the same desperate story: the death of a care home patient (nauseatingly referred to as a ‘service user’) and the subsequent trial for homicidal negligence of his carer.
Although a poetry slam champion, her narrative here is so carefully crafted that it at no point whacks you over the head shouting ‘I am a poem’, which makes it all the more insidiously powerful, her seamless rhythms maintaining a momentum which fizzes with anger. Walker unravels the history surrounding Lee’s death via a more than justifiably outraged attack on the care system, whose abilities and very humanity are slowly being whittled away by blinkered government policies. When the government cuts corners, she tells the jury, vulnerable people will hit those corners, and be bruised. The absurdities and indignities foisted on carers and those being cared for alike would be risible, if the situation weren’t so desperate – one carer, hampered by a useless, completely untrained temp, must prepare five separate meals for five different people, but isn’t allowed to leave them alone with her untrained assistant. That assistant isn’t allowed to move the patients, but they all need assistance to get to the table. That assistant isn’t trained in food hygiene, and so by law is forbidden from preparing their food. For choosing to prepare the food herself, and leave her patients, for moments, in the care of the temp, for making the choice between making sure those people get fed and letting them go hungry, a court levies the accusation of homicidal negligence. While Walker is making five separate dinners, alone, Lee falls heavily and dies, and it is she, the lawyer insists who bears the blame.
Walker’s lightning-fast switches between accuser and accused serve to make the injustices that are heaped at her feet all the sharper, and all the more intolerable. The (perhaps too predictably) plummy tones of the barrister accuse her of negligence, incompetence, lack of respect for the legislation of the government and for the regulations of her industry. The citation of her past ‘failings’ include saving a person’s life by illegally administering CPR to an epileptic. This performance crackles with an angry frustration that it’s impossible not to feel yourself; slumped, hair pulled back, eyes glittering, palms sweeping her face in anguish, Walker is utterly compelling. The material is powerful enough, but the elegance with which it is put together makes this a truly breathtakingly performance. Walker, depressingly, illustrates how eloquence, intelligence and common sense, pitted against bullying legalese, are so easily trampled down.
For £5.55, I have responsibility
for five lives and you imply…
Negligence, incompetence, lack of respect. At the end of the show I heard one audience member ask Walker “Was that all real?”, to which she, of course, replies “Yes.” It’s a hideous answer, and one that everybody needs to hear.