Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Theatre

Powerful potential not yet realised

18 January 2021

It’s a commendable debut play, but Claire Trolio says Do I Look Like I Care? is too disjointed to get to grips with its solid ideas.

Do I Look Like I Care?, Bear Hands Co. ·
State Theatre Centre of WA, 16 January, 2021 ·

It’s 1982 and a young nurse moves from the north of England to take up a job in Australia. Presented as a series of vignettes set in and around a hospital, Do I Look Like I Care? reflects the gruelling and frequently thankless task of nursing.

It’s the debut play from Daisy Coyle, who also assumes the central character of Florence, and it’s directed by Elise Wilson. Coyle first caught my attention on stage at The Blue Room back in 2016 when, as a Performance Studies student, she held her own alongside a bunch of established local actors in Is This Thing On?, and again the following year with a nuanced performance in psychological thriller An Almost Perfect Thing.

Upon graduating, Coyle teamed with fellow Curtin University alumni Anna Lindstedt and Caitlin McFeat (who feature in the cast of Do I Look Like I Care? and as assistant director respectively) to launch Perth-based theatre company Bear Hands Co. They claim to tell stories through a feminist lens, treading the line between comedy and tragedy.

A woman dressed in a nurse's uniform holds a baby. She looks pensive.
Writer Daisy Coyle as Florence. Photo: Campbell Greenock

The nursing subject matter seems perfectly suited to a Bear Hands Co production: a female-dominated profession that’s filled with funny incidents and gut-wrenching moments on a daily basis. And while Coyle tries to pack a lot of those events into the 60-minute play, it doesn’t quite hit the mark in its current package.

There’s a lot going on here. The cast of eight make the stage feel crowded, and not for lack of space in the roomy State Theatre Centre Rehearsal Room 1.

The play chops from one short scene to another with stories that fizz out like a burnt electrical cable. On one hand, this frenetic energy effectively conveys the fast-paced nature of hospital nursing, being overworked and pulled in different directions. To a viewer, though, it felt disjointed and confusing. With a bit more workshopping, Do I Look Like I Care? could focus on fewer ideas but present them in a more considered way, with added subtlety, to give the audience a chance to connect.

None of the characters are very likeable, and they spend a lot of time yelling at one another. Due to Covid restrictions, the audience was spread out and I wonder if this encouraged the cast to shout their lines. It wasn’t necessary, because the room still felt intimate with good acoustics. The result was jarring.

With jokes falling flat, I tried to read the work as a thank-you to nurses, but the characters were so misanthropic that I couldn’t. Florence seems so unhappy with the work, her colleagues and superiors, and she doesn’t give a very good standard of care, so my answer to the titular question is, in fact, no, she doesn’t look like she cares.

With this in mind, Coyle does address why Florence has entered the profession in the first place, reflecting on the limited choices that women had upon leaving school. The play also touches on the arrogance of male doctors towards female nursing staff, and addresses male patients’ disrespect for a nurse’s authority. There’s also an unplanned pregnancy that destroys a teenage girl’s ambition with no apparent consequences for the child’s father. These themes could be powerful, and I longed for more of those narratives teased through the play.

Do I Look Like I Care? is ultimately a commendable work from a debut playwright, based on solid ideas that would benefit from a tad more work behind the scenes.

Do I Look Like I Care? continues in Rehearsal Room 1 at the State Theatre Centre until Tuesday, 19 January, as part of the State of Play program at Fringe World 2021.

Pictured top: Frenetic energy in ‘Do I Look Like I Care?’. Photo: Campbell Greenock

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Author —
Claire Trolio

Claire Trolio completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at UWA. She writes about Western Australia for various digital and print media and owns a shop with her sister. For her, the spider swing is the ultimate in playground fun.

Past Articles

  • Toast retains its crunch

    Despite last minute cast changes, Liz Newell’s Toast continues to shine in its second season, writes Claire Trolio.

  • Barking Gecko shines with child-like wonder

    Barking Gecko gets the balance just right in its latest production – a delightful daydream that brings out the child in us all, writes Claire Trolio.

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