I’ve to Mind Her
This emotionally affecting portrait of a teenage carer uses a single story to tell a devastating broader truth
I’ve to Mind Her
Smock Alley Black Box
The stage is bare but for a microphone, a kettle, an iron, several brightly-coloured chairs, and a pair of cameras rigged for live projection: the standard props of post-dramatic theatre. However, Shaun Dunne’s play for Dublin Youth Theatre offers more than a dispassionate delivery of scenes from contemporary life. It is an emotionally affecting portrait of the self-sacrifice of a teenage carer and the invisibility of mental illness. It is unlikely that you will see anything so sad at the theatre this year.
Performed by an ensemble cast of eight, I’ve to Mind Her uses third-person direct address to create a sense of anonymity for the protagonist. This is reinforced by the way in which the character is split between male and female voices, but instead of distancing us emotionally from the experience, it signals the play’s more universal intention: to use a single story to highlight a broader truth. The protagonist’s mother, meanwhile, is most poignantly represented as an empty chair: she is a woman hollowed out by illness, a blank space in the house that the protagonist tries to fill with order and routine.
Help, when it finally comes, is anonymous, too, a barrage of questions that neglect the most important one: how are you? Dunne, meanwhile, asks another crucial question: who is responsible to the child when the child is the one responsible for the parent? “No one is obliged to tell him anything,” the actors tell us, and yet, while the details of the mother’s illness remain vague, the impact upon the young carer, alienated from his peers, is specific.