The Edinburgh Festival is just weeks away now and, as often happens at this time of year, there are a number of shows playing themselves in before transferring in a northerly direction for their Fringe run. One which caught my eye is Careless currently warming up at The Hen And Chickens in Islington. Conceived and written in lockdown by young actors Emma François and Eva Tritschler, collectively known as Written Off Theatre, it has already enjoyed success at both The Lion and Unicorn and Hope Theatres. It is a thoroughly entertaining 45 minutes played with a fine sense of comedy; at the same time I learned rather more than I would care to know about how catheterisation works these days and was introduced to the modern condition of maskne (look it up).
The acting profession is famed for its many superstitions among which is the notion that you shouldn’t quote the, as it’s known, “Scottish play” in order to not to visit disaster upon yourself. Yet this is exactly how Careless begins as struggling actor Briony (Tritschler) gives an impassioned rendering of the dagger speech. She intersperses this with making sporadic attempts at videoing her audition tape for a well-known hair product (sorry, “balm”) and carrying out preparations for her own 25th birthday party which mostly seems to consist of quaffing prosecco. Her flat mate Sam gets back after her exhausting day as a Care Assistant, with tales of the lonely souls she has been looking after, suggesting a rather grimmer reality than the fantasies indulged in by self-obsessed Briony. Sam also brings with her a rather troubling secret which threatens to destroy both women’s fragile equilibria.
For the most part, the play proceeds as a traditional flat share comedy with over caring Sam and rather more careless Briony trading banter about themselves and the somewhat different worlds they inhabit. This section pokes a good deal of fun at the pretensions and egos of a certain breed of actor while making some serious points about the place of carers in our society, particularly during the pandemic. François lived this role for real when acting roles dried up during Covid and this ring of truth does much to ground the play in reality. The second half sees a shift of tone as the dark secret of a single careless moment is revealed and the repercussions are played out. The two women take entirely different approaches to the problem but who will prove right in the end – if indeed either are right at all? It transpires that Sam is just as much of an actor – and possibly a better one – as her flatmate and by the end of the play the demarcation lines between the women are less finely distinguished.
Tritschler and François exude over emphatic bonhomie and mousy reticence respectively making for a comedy of opposites which includes plenty of laugh out loud moments with some cleverly wrought lines; no air of carelessness here. They are a lively young pair and there’s an air of ease and comfortableness to their playing borne of their collaboration and refinement of the material (ongoing presumably) while still retaining a sharp edge about the more serious aspects. I assume the piece has been self-directed and it would almost certainly benefit from having a third pair of eyes to sharpen focus here and there before it gets to Scotland; but that’s partly what these try outs are for. At least there doesn’t seem to have been any curse lingering over the show given its risky opening gambit.