BY Karyn Hodgkinson
“We have heard countless stories about how much people grieve for all they have lost when they arrive in residential care. They become ‘just a resident’, just another body to be washed, fed and mobilised, their value defined by the amount of funding they bring with them. They become infantilised, lose autonomy, and are prevented from making decisions or doing physical things that were routine when they lived at home, on the grounds that they ‘could hurt themselves.” – Interim Report, Royal Commission into Aged Care, Quality & Safety – tabled 1st March, 2021.
In the wake of the Royal Commission above, Memoir of a Tired Carer, written and performed by Oliver Bailey, contains within it every reason for why that royal commission was needed.
Memoir of a Tired Carer is a collection of stories from the point of view of James, the carer, about residents, carers and a manager in the same facility. Through these stories the audience gets to see what it’s like in such a facility. The curtain is drawn back, revealing the underbelly of an industry that is ever growing.
James is an affable man, but he is eventually worn down by the system – the lack of adequate training, the lack of staff, the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency, care and provision by management. There are aspects of the job he enjoys however, such as doing crosswords with resident Sally. Some days are sparkling, where ‘the building seems so easy’ and it ‘feels good to be so helpful’. However, too many days are frustrating and exhausting. Resident Katherine’s incessant complaints about her breakfast, making James come in many times with improved versions, are infuriating. Katherine explodes ‘how can you imbeciles get everything wrong?!’ Alas management insists that she, above the other residents, because of her financial contributions, ’be given nothing but the best.’
Brenda, another staff member has been there for years and residents know her well. She is gentle and kind and all respond ‘to her lightest touch’. Another staff member is also known through ‘her hands’, which show ‘care’. However Graham, the manager, says whatever is expedient to staff and residents alike in order to keep people happy and the wheels turning. He also turns a blind eye to situations such as suspected abuse by carer ‘big’ Darren. Graham is informed of this but incredibly, does nothing about it.
Bailey makes ‘the building’ itself a character in his story because of the history it has seen. Within those walls, there is a spiritual presence which reflects an unsettling past. The too frequent appearance of the ‘wolves’ is a clunky metaphor, especially when they balance ‘on their hind legs’ to waltz to Ellen’s piano playing. Otherwise the script is well written and well structured. I wonder however whether a little humour could be a foil to the weightiness of this piece.
Oliver Bailey gives a fine performance. His characterisations are clear as is his diction. He has been directed well by Kathryn Yates, including in the use of the props, set and space. The bed and the chair occupy most of the performance space, making it feel like a small room in a facility. The simple sound design using solo piano, beautifully punctuates significant moments in the narrative.
This is a piece that all adults should see. In a world with declining birth rates and rising numbers of older people over younger ones, the issue of aged care affects us all. It is illuminating theatre about a not-so-sexy subject.