Skip to main content

Beyond Caring- Yard Theatre, London

An empty space strewn with litter and cruel looking industrial equipment. In one corner, a darkish staff communal area.  A man, Phil, one of the cleaners [Sean O’Callaghan] crosses and shuts himself away in the toilet, taking his Dick Francis novel with him- beginning what becomes a cycle of repetitive behavior. Soon the sliding doors to the factory opens and in walk Becky [Victoria Moseley] Susan [Hayely Carmichael] and Grace [Janet Etuk] here to be interviewed by cleaning boss Ian [Luke Clarke]. So begins Alexander Zeldin’s production Beyond Caring, a devised piece focusing on the lives of cleaners on zero hours contracts at a meat factory.

Statistically, there are around 600,000 on zero hours contracts in the UK, with 16% of those people not earning enough to make ends meet. This allows companies to exploit their workers’ needs with sometimes-unsociable extra hours and impossible demands, a factor Beyond Caring explores very well. Also explored is the sense of entrapment suffered by even the manager Ian, who tries to mask his despair by bragging about his spirituality and the occasional glance at porn on his mobile, which sends him to the loo for a quick wank.

The play does not number crunch, preach, argue- it simply shows us what it is like to be part of the working poor- and it does so with unnerving raw emotion and despair.

Take Becky, whose problems are so deeply internalized, we fear that she will become psychotic. Or Grace who is bullied by Ian. Or Susan, who is unable to admit she is homeless and in need of real help. And the stillness given to Phil whose psychic pain renders him frozen and immobile and whose need for love, recognized by a Becky in a similar situation, leads them to a fumbled failed love making attempt, made all the more heart wrenching by Phil’s tears- as if the human contact unfreezes him.

We realize that everything has to be in snatched moments, which is the real terror and despair of the working poor. They don’t have the money for the time to invest in being human- the pressure of time, like the pressure of the job, squeezes it out of them. It is not that the jobs have brought on and out each and everyone’s inner torments and demons, but rather that the working conditions exacerbate them even further. Life for these people cannot extend itself beyond this- they themselves, listless and as if life has gone away from them, are beyond caring.

So the question is, why? And must always be why? Why the exploitation? Why the awful working conditions? Why the bad and sometimes lack of pay? Why force others to live like this? Who will care if we don’t?

The play is inspired by The Cleaner by Florence Aubenas and the director himself spent time working as a cleaner. It seems plot less, rather like a good Mike Leigh film where the very small things become intensely huge and meaningful. Even breath is magnified on Zeldin’s stage. The company all give carefully observed and enunciated performances, Hayley Carmichael especially bringing humor to her character.

And it isn’t in the least bit patronizing. Instead it is agonizing and loving. And an investigation into what happens to the human soul when its main and only preoccupation is to survive on a very basic level.

Beyond Caring runs until 26th July

Beyond Caring is written by Alexander Zeldin through devising with the company. Performed by
Hayley Carmichael
Sean O’Callaghan
Victoria Moseley
Janet Etuk
Luke Clarke

Creative Team
Alexander Zeldin – Director
Natasha Jenkins – Designer
Tamara Moore – Producer
Josh Grigg – Sound Designer
Marc Williams – LX Designer
Grace Gummer – Assistant Director


Popular posts from this blog

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…

A Man of Good Hope: review

“The ability to have someone tell your story is so important. It says you know I was here.” Maya Angelou It’s a piece of musical theatre about having hope. It’s an urgent work which speaks of age old global phenomenons such as migration and life as a persecuted refugee. The term refugee has been part of the western world’s history since the persecution of protestants in France in 1540, the term migrant is biblical. The book upon which the show is based, an account of the life of Somali Asad Abdullahi who witnessed the murder of his mother when he was eight years old in Mogadishu during the civil war and who then fled across Africa as a boy and young man as a consequence, is in some ways so traumatic a read that the stage work has to offer more positivity than the title infers. 
In the Isango Ensemble and director Mark Dornford-May, with a little help from Stephen Daldry, the book, by Jonny Steinberg, has found the perfect stage partners. One feels that no other company could do this wor…

Safe House- art meets theatre at the Young Vic with Jeremy Herbert and Gabriella Sonabend

It starts with a journey down a narrow corridor, fist clenching wooden key.
‘Follow the yellow line’ the polite Usher says and I do, around the corner and into a foyer area, where I am met with a gust of wind from a machine that Jeremy Herbert, the designer, has created himself. As my hair blows and my cheeks and eyes are battered as if I am standing on top of a mountain, I am tempted to remain here, to continue to feel the gusts in my face and listen to the sound the wind makes. I don’t want anything else and I can’t hear anything else, only aware of a need to immerse myself in it, to let myself go in the rapid flashing lights that emanate from its surface. I’m one who craves aloneness and enjoys it all too well, but I am afraid that someone will come and disturb this brief relationship myself and the wind machine have struck up, or that my mind will interfere, the buzz of thoughts getting the better of me.. so I move on around the room, after all, there are four more ‘safes’, all a s…