Theatre review: Beyond Caring at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick
- Credit: Photo by Mark Douet
Can corporations afford to care? If profit is king, perhaps it is best to allow employers to dole out zero-hour contracts, where employees are only given work when they are needed.
Up-and-coming 29-year old playwright and director, Alexander Zeldin, presents one flaw in this argument: there is very little room for empathy. His new play paints a bleak scenario in a sausage-making factory. Grace (Janet Etuk), Becky (Victoria Moseley) and Susan (Hayley Carmichael) do not know how many hours, if any, they will be given to work in the next week. They are eager to impress, caught in a dirty warehouse, littered with boxes and grisly machines.
The three women are consenting adults. They have chosen to work there. But they find themselves in a situation where power is weighted heavily against them. The corporate executives are not shown on stage. But their wills are enforced by Ian (Luke Clarke), a lacklustre yet manipulative supervisor who passes on the message that Becky cannot take leave to visit her child.
We only have tantalising glimpses into the women’s lives. The play could have shown us more. Grace has rheumatoid arthritis. She cannot work fast, although she misses her pill breaks as she knows that Ian resents her taking them. Susan bravely lights up in her employee evaluation with Ian, desperate to win a permanent role – yes, she has ideas; she cares about the environment and animal testing. Ian writes nothing – he was looking for an answer about cleaning.
At first the women speak little to one another, or to Phil (Sean O’Callaghan) a permanent cleaning employee with his head stuck in a book. Who has time to talk to one another? Breaks are short and all employees have problems of their own to deal with.
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The play draws us in with short bursts of drama and poignancy. Becky, Susan, Grace and Phil start sharing their music. Phil is encouraged to read his book out loud. They touch one another, get too close to one another and leave one another. Sometimes they look out for one another.
The actors give understated, emotionally taut performances. The action is woven with pauses and strained silences. At certain points, the audience is watching paint, or rather cleaning fluid, dry. We inhabit the play’s rhythmic monotony, dashed with uncertainty.
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It is hard to sit in the audience and feel apathetic; the play reminds us to care.