October 10, 2020
Home. A place of safety, comfort and belonging. It’s one of the things we tend not to think about, take for granted even, most of us at least. But there are some not so fortunate as Charlotte Vincent shows us in In Loco Parentis, the latest of a series of works by her that explore the impact of our adult world on young lives.
Its tour stopped in its tracks by the pandemic shortly after its premiere, In Loco Parentis is informed by real-life testimonies from those in care, foster parents, adopters, carers and other professionals, as Vincent investigates the impact of going into care on young people’s lives. Touching on substance abuse, domestic violence, physical and psychological abuse, neglect and more, it’s edgy, raw and challenging. Combining her trademark mix of movement and spoken word, an incredibly absorbing watch.
The subject matter is difficult. Disturbing even. At a shade under 90 minutes, the film is long for a streaming. Bosie Vincent’s beautifully crafted filming and editing, and Charlotte Vincent’s bringing together of character, movement and text, is totally absorbing, however. Different angles, close-ups and lingering shots draw attention to the characters and give pause for thought.
The cast of Robert Clark, Aurora Lubos, Janusz Orlik, and two non-professional children are outstanding too. There’s also a very lifelike baby doll that they sometimes manipulate. The youngsters’ performances belie their tender years. The girl in particular has remarkable presence, often just ‘there’, a bystander almost, as her world disintegrates around her.
At the beginning, a professional sounding voice talks about trauma. It’s something the work keeps returning to. The 11-year-old girl is compelling as she speaks into a microphone. She talks about her mother. All she has is a letter. With real feeling, she wonders about her, what she looked like. Why? When? Questions. Lots of questions. Life is like a jigsaw but with most of the pieces missing, we hear.
The fragmented narrative reflects real life and is indicative of the fragmented lives of youngsters in care. Theirs is a confused story. Not knowing where she is, who she is or where she belongs, the girl repeats the attempts of social workers to explain why she is now ‘here’ and no longer ‘there’. Perhaps the most damning sentence of all comes from the child interviewee who remarks that there are elements of his own story that are not yet ‘age appropriate’ for him to hear.
The boy, aged 13, draws a timeline on a blackboard at the back. It all seems so ordinary. ‘Born’, ‘Got a sister’, ‘Birthday’, but then ‘Flat burned down’, before we’re back to the everyday and ‘Started football’. That timeline and a later drawing of home is wiped away, the latter violently as if trying to erase the trauma of the past. If only it were that simple. What cannot be wiped away, of course, is the memories and the trauma that is left.
Although the children have defined characters, Clark, Lubos and Orlik adopt multiple roles. Clark switches between father, abuser and foster carer; Lubos similarly is mother and carer; and Orlik can be seen as an uncle or friend. Emphasising the cyclical nature of what we are seeing, Lubos and Orlik can be seen as the children grown up, or is it that the children are the adults as youngsters? Certainly, Vincent makes it clear that the mother has trauma in her history in a dramatic early solo that brings her maternal instincts up against her troubled past.
The movement sections are equally impressive. The solo moments are intense but it’s the duets between the youngsters and adults that have greatest impact. They children are so natural and always bring a powerful realism to the dance. Some moments are quite moving, those involving the young girl in particular, while a duet for the boy and Clark as his abusive, violent father is athletic and dramatic.
Even in moments of happiness, distress and trauma are never far away. A party soon descends into coke snorting, out of control drinking and bottle smashing as the children seek safety under a table.
In Loco Parentis leaves you wondering about what role adults as a whole play in all this. Situations and histories do not only affect the child. We hear the frustrations of one foster parent. ‘We try to be a good parent, but… Are we making any progress? Are we doing any good?’
And what of the professionals? Do they sometimes hinder children trying to rebuild their lives? We see them sweep up paperwork, lives reduced to sheets of A4. But are they clearing up the mess or making things worse? Through all of this, the doll often lies discarded. Another metaphor. It’s not the intent but maybe it is sometimes too easy to forget, or for the system to forget, that these youngsters who need care are real people.
Through it all, Jules Maxwell’s score adds to the tension, sometimes almost acting as another voice.
Vincent doesn’t lecture, and doesn’t provide answers. She does make you think though; again, and again and again. She makes you ask questions. If there’s a message, it’s that young people in care need support. They need a sense of belonging.
But it’s not entirely without hope. There is a certain toughness and resilience in the children’s characters. We also see the girl tenderly cradling the baby doll. Perhaps there is a way out if we look hard enough. The young people’s stories demand to be heard, however, and In Loco Parentis demands to be seen. Let’s hope we all get the chance. Soon.