Review – Who Cares 2032 – an interactive digital experience co-produced by the Royal and Derngate Northampton, Hydrocracker and Deafconnect – 1st June 2023

Who Cares 2032The time is 2032; nine years into the future – that’s not that far away. The NHS has remained starved of resources so that it is teetering on the brink of non-existence. Care workers have left the profession in their droves due to poor wages and conditions – there’s just not enough bitcoin to go around. But the government has come up with a potentially smart solution – the Contact App. Is it the cure-all for saving lives in an even worse case scenario than we’re currently facing – or is it an unethical intrusion that marketizes the care industry?

MishJem Wall and Nathan Crossan-Smith have devised this new, challenging and interactive experience, which you can watch and engage with from the privacy of your own laptop. Remember Casper the Friendly Ghost? Who Cares 2032 features another very friendly ghost, Doctor Anna, who loves nothing more than a spot of digital haunting and putting you in control of the future of the nation’s healthcare. She gatecrashes our online lecture to make us face a very important choice. If we want to, we can corrupt the code that will create the Contact App, thus taking it out of society for ever; or, we can let history takes its course and allow it to be introduced. Obviously, that’s a decision that none of us can take lightly, and over the course of a little over an hour Doctor Anna poses some difficult ethical and moral questions for us, and, try as we might, there’s no sitting on the fence with this one.

Mish and GrahamWe’re already used to the concept of having medical appointments over the Internet – for the most part, it’s quicker, easier, and can provide a good back-up service to the general public. So what’s the problem with the Contact App, surely it’s just the natural next stage of development? That’s certainly the attitude of young, deaf, Mish, who finds using it is her primary access to health provision and also allows her to keep tabs on her general health and wellbeing on a regular basis. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with middle-aged Graham in Joe’s Café and encourages him to sign up to the App too. But Graham is from a less technologically trusting era, and insists he doesn’t need the intervention of an interfering and nosy wristband telling him what to do. Are you like Mish, or are you like Graham? As we discover more and more about the App, its benefits and its deficiencies become clearer. How will you respond when Anna finally gets you to nail your colours to the mast?

MishThis is a very entertaining, challenging and intense piece of interactive drama. You have to concentrate hard on what’s going on, as sometimes Anna will put a question to you that demands some time to reflect over. There are no hard and fast easy answers here – but there a lot of soft and slow difficult ones! It’s an invigorating blend of rigorous intellectual stimulation and genuine emotional response, and I found myself quite moved by some of the situations and people to whom we are introduced. At one stage, you can pick and choose to listen to the experiences of a number of people – carers, a teacher, a student, family members; each bearing first-hand witness to the problems of providing healthcare in 2032. Give yourself time to consider the evidence of their lives; you might find, like I did, that during the experience you change your mind.

Graham and MishIt’s very smartly written, with several amusing local references, and a few off-guard moments from Anna that had me snorting with laughter. Faith Omole provides the voice of Anna, and she really gets into your psyche; before long you find yourself telling her all sorts of private things that you wouldn’t normally tell anyone – but rest assured, what happens between you and Anna stays with you and Anna. One exception to this – you can choose to publish your reasoning for either allowing the App to go ahead or nipping it in the bud on a legacy wall; entirely your decision. Jude Akuwudike voices Oladipo, a diabetes nurse, who can only see the benefits provided by the App. Rhiannon May plays Mish with a nice balance of Generation Alpha cynicism and respect for the older Graham’s concerns and feelings, if not his choice of breakfasts; and co-creator Jem Wall plays the decent but backward-looking Graham, who is appalled by the App’s lack of privacy but eventually moves with the times. Other characters are played by members of the Community Actors Company and people who work with Deafconnect, the local charity who are also co-producing the experience.

Contact AppIf I took away one overriding message from the show it would be that it wants to make us think. It wants to make us consider playing a part in framing the health policies that will shape our future. Whether you opt to corrupt the code or push forward with it, this is a highly responsible moment for us all. Pay What You Can for a ticket – £5 is suggested, but not compulsory; and your payment will give you a link to the show that you can watch as many times as you like until the end of July. Visit the Royal and Derngate website for more details, or simply click here. After all, it’s not every day a ghost gives you the opportunity of changing the future of healthcare in the country for ever!

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