Jas is 4 years old…no, she's 10, starting secondary school…now 16, waiting for GCSE results. Sometimes she's also Jaswoman, with special powers of flying, healing and making things right. Which is lucky as she cares for a mum with fast deteriorating health and a sister with special needs and an obsession with dogs.
Freefall tracks Jas's life experience over 10 years, from the day she has to pick her mother off the floor while her sister wanders out of the open front door and down the road. The strain shows on the pinched face of the four-year-old in the photo taken that afternoon. She learns to grow up quick, comfort her mum, count her own powers ('1-10, all the things I can do'), handle her dad's random and unreliable visits plus the unsettling attention of police and social services - and finds a friend in another young carer online. She also starts to vlog about her life and gives advice to others, while still handling the juggling balls of family life and school demands (including a particularly nasty bully).
This is a solo piece with Kirsty Jackson playing Jas, her mum and her sister Sophie – plus a range of other characters – with humour, warmth and speed, but never losing the emotional focus on Jas herself. The audience is drawn into the reality of Jas' life and the tension builds as family crises coincide with key moments of her growing up. It is sad to watch how alone she feels, yet how hard she finds it to accept help. Teachers and social workers are well meaning but seem unable to offer practical support.
Freefall was developed to tour schools - to encourage young carers to recognise and share their own experience, and schools to find better ways of offering help. This should work well as the play is fast-moving and varied, using drama, movement, media and a simple effective set to tell a moving and relevant story. Jas emerges as a courageous and admirable girl, and undoubtedly the superhero of her family.
And she is not alone. The Carers Trust reckons that there are over 700,000 young people currently looking after family (that's 1 in 12 secondary school students), many of whom spend up to 2 full days a week doing so, on top of school. Let's hope some of them get to see this play.
Freefall is produced by Unit Twenty Three and is touring in Suffolk, Hertfordshire and East Anglia this spring. You can catch public performances at Hertford Theatre (6 March) and March Town Hall (17 March). More information at www.freefalltour.uk