‘What do you do when the state decides it’s going to take over from your Mam?’ That’s the question posed by Live Theatre play Day of the Flymo, which was recently performed in Newcastle.
Written by award-winning playwright Paddy Campbell – who worked as a residential child care officer for eight years – Day of the Flymo follows the journey of a 13-year-old boy who is on the verge of entering care.
“It’s about the decisions around that, and his family trying to hide what’s really going on…[and] the mechanisms that are in place with social services around those sort of decisions,” Campbell explains.
In his second full-length play, Campbell wanted to explore the “grey area” around children at the point of entry into care.
The play only had a short run, from April 8 until April 11, but Campbell has hopes it will be taken elsewhere across the country. “Some people are coming from other theatres to look at it. There are no concrete plans as of yet, but fingers crossed,” he says.
Although recent fictional portrayals of social work have been poorly received, Campbell didn’t feel pressure to portray the drama in a particular way. “The play reflects on my experiences of working with young people within that system. It naturally came through that the stereotypes the media portrays about looked-after children aren’t correct.
Portrayal of social workers
“It can be a range of backgrounds and issues and all sorts of things that can result in a young person ending up in the looked-after system.”
And for social workers? “I hope I’ve portrayed everyone in the system fairly and not a kind of ‘archetypal’ social worker. I hope I’ve put across the very difficult and complicated situations they have to deal with,” he says.
John Hickman, a PHD social work student at Northumbria University who is studying the portrayal of looked-after children in the media, believes Campbell has succeeded. “This is probably one of the most balanced things I’ve seen,” Hickman says.
‘Balanced and real’
For example, the journey of the child and family at the centre of the play felt “pretty real” compared to his own experiences as a social worker.
“It’s interesting to see it reflected back that there are no easy choices for social workers, and I think that is something that the public, at large, need to understand a lot better,” he says.
Campbell hopes the play will help highlight some of the thoughts and feelings held by children in care, who are often not listened to. “I hope the play will provoke discussion around that area and how the state does step in.”