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‘Unforgettable: Telling the care home story’ review – love, loss and Covid-19

Brian Daniels’ gut-wrenching play tells the story of a residential care home during the Covid-19 pandemic. With little focus on local authorities or the government, Daniels gives the spotlight solely to care staff, residents, and families.

Since 2020, it seems information regarding Covid-19 has been decorated by central government. We probably all remember watching the daily BBC updates from the comfort of our own homes. However, Brian Daniels’ latest production, Unforgettable: Telling the care home story, rightly directs the narrative back to medical staff and residents – the people who were arguably affected the most by the virus. This different perspective makes the performance a melancholic yet uplifting masterpiece.

The performance in action.

The play, which was showcased at Chapel FM – an arts centre in Leeds – on Friday 16th February, begins in 2006 when Beth, a young secondary school student, makes the difficult decision to drop out of education to help look after her sick grandmother. The scene is set in the principal’s office where the head teacher is trying to convince Beth to stay. However, this scene is cut short when we fast-forward to April 2020 where Beth has become a care home manager.

One of the most defining moments of the production is when Beth speaks up about the deaths of care home residents throughout the pandemic. Whilst informing family members that they have tragically lost a loved one over the phone, Beth regrettably makes people aware that government guidelines state people cannot enter care homes through fear of contamination, meaning their loved ones belongings will be kept outside of the front door in a bag ready for collection. This scene mirrors how, during lockdown, the government used to list the number of people who had died from the virus at the bottom of the screen, like a footnote – small and easily overlooked. However, when Beth is off the phone, she breaks her professional manner and states: ‘They were not residents – they were Joe, Constance, Arthur, Giovannie. They were my friends; my family and I’m gutted – but I can’t show it.’

Unforgettable: Telling the Care Home Story is performed like a radio play and stars writer Brian Daniels, who unflags in his efforts to keep the audience gripped. The chemistry he creates between the characters George, Edna and Beth can be described as nothing short of exceptional. Although the characters are simply sat in a line in the middle of the stage, the production is constantly moving through time – the thick of it starts in 2020 and ends in 2022 – with a constant focus on the effects of Covid-19. However, Daniels also litters his production with other issues that the social care sector is currently facing to ensure people are made aware of what staff have to face on a daily basis. These include finance, inclusivity and communication between hospitals and care homes.

The choice to deliver the show as a radio play was a superb one. Before the performance commenced Daniels spoke to the audience about how, whilst researching the project, he interviewed a BBC journalist who lost two of their relatives that lived in a care home during the pandemic. The playwright, who has written and researched 27 plays about care and health, said that the journalist got so upset whilst recalling her experience, that he knew the performance had to be simple to ensure audience members remain focused on what the actors are saying to get his message across. It’s all about their story and what they experienced.  

Brian and his team rehearsing the play.

Overall the performance had a total runtime of 30 minutes and, once it had ended, was followed by an audience-led Q&A which was chaired by Peter Hodkinson, managing director of Westward Care Ltd. During the discussion, all kinds of industry experts voiced their opinions on what needs to change to ensure both social care and the NHS run better. Managers of care homes, directors of nursing and agency care staff all concluded that ‘integration’ would be the best possible solution. Perhaps if the government spent more time listening to people actually involved in the medical sector, more positive changes would be made.

When this play was first written it premiered at the House of Parliament in Autumn 2023 thanks to support from Fabian Hamilton MP and Leeds Care Association who commissioned the project. Since then, the performance has been toured around the country and details of it can be found at Pluto Play Productions – a registered not-for-profit charity which was founded by Daniels. In addition, the details of Daniels’ other works can also be found on this website and all of his plays are available to be booked and performed at any location.

In June, Brian Daniels is taking another one of his productions to The Alzheimer’s Dementia & Care Show, the UK’s only dedicated event for dementia help, support, and education, which is due to take place at the ExCeL in London.

Images: Emily Whitehouse and Brian Daniels 

More features:

Integrated care systems: A solution to capacity constraints

Health and social care? More like health vs social care

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