headline

Beyond Caring

Birmingham Rep

****

BEYOND Caring by  Rep associate director Alexander Zeldin is an experience like no other, a devised piece about the gruelling conditions and the sacrifices of people through zero hours contracts as cleaners in a factory.

It is a comment of the all too common structure of work that people are forced to take on today. In the production, we see the experience of three new cleaners taking on a fourteen-night contract from an agency and the interaction within their new environment.

The production feels almost site specific as the space is used well to allude to the cold and industrial setting of workers in a factory.

Natasha Jenkins’ set design is grey and dark which constantly gives the gloomy factory feeling. The main stage of the REP is used, but the audience do not sit in the auditorium. Instead, we are guided to the back of the stage and sit in a studio set up in thrust. The openness of sitting towards the workshop area of the REP points to the factory-like atmosphere of the factory setting.

We meet each character as they enter one by one. Because of the bright fluorescent lights and open space, it is hard to establish that the play has started.

This is a fantastic concept, as authenticity runs through every moment. The audience are merely there to observe the conditions and hierarchies of working in the most unethical environments. The atmosphere is constantly very real, yet it is environment with an extreme uncomfortable feeling.

Grace, Susan and Becky are employed as cleaners within the factory via an agency. Through awkward dialogue and unspoken courtesies, the struggles of working for two entities are apparent.

Perhaps it is because of Zeldin’s direction that makes this production so sharp. It is a devised piece, which gives a fluidity and truthful account of working conditions. There is a hierarchy in the company.

Manager Ian is in charge and he is comfortable in his position with no need to think about those below him. When Becky received a text to say that payment would not be in her account until a later date, Ian wanted nothing to do with the matter, stating ‘take it up with the agency.’

This is an all too real example of the disposable culture in which companies are used to treating employees, and it is reflected beautifully within the performance.

The issue of confidentiality is lost and every small detail is thought about. We see constant examples of the lack of integrity shown towards employees.

When Ian conducts a review with the quiet Susan, there is an expectation for him to stop when Grace and Phil enter having had their break. Instead, Ian continues with the condescending interview, totally ignoring that they now have company, while Susan is left flustered and embarrassed.

Janet Etuk as Grace. Picture: Mark Douet

Another moment happened in which the ladies were being interviewed as a group, Ian distinctly and openly questioned Grace regarding medical problems, leaving her with no choice but to answer in front of complete strangers about a background of Arthritis and disability.

The cast, three fresh from a run at the National Theatre, are fantastic at capturing the essence of the struggles of zero hours contracts. In the factory, each character has a  different personality. This difference of life experience only establishes that working in desolate industries are not a choice for some, but a living.

Luke Clarke plays the self-righteous manager Ian who clearly shows no care towards employees. Clarke depicts a manager with a one rule for himself, and another for the rest attitude. His casual passes towards bad conditions and treatment are eye-opening, but are still a truthful representation of the reality of what happens in workplaces of today.

Phil is the only full-time cleaner amongst the group and is a quiet and shy character. In the awkward lunch breaks where people are desperate to cut the atmosphere with meaningless small talk, Phil distances himself with reading.

James Edward Doherty is fantastic in the role and shows the secrets of the seemingly quiet man. Doherty tastefully addressees the issue of mental health within the workplace, taking himself away to the bathroom for prolonged periods of time and opening up to others strictly on a one-on-one basis.

Becky is a secretive and hardy lady, with a worldly experience and a suggestion that she has worked with a cleaning agency for far too long. Victoria Mosely embodies her roughness and is probably the most interesting character, perhaps because we do not actually know Becky’s real background. In a scene where Ian refuses to offer her a day off work, we see what this means for her life at home. Mosely is perfect within the strong and tragic role.

There were also wonderful performances from Kristin Hutchinson, who played the shy Susan and Janet Etuk as Grace, who did not ‘fit in’ with the rest of the group, but needed the job as equally as anyone else.

The piece has a constant pent up frustration where the audience are patiently waiting for the workforce to address it. The need to be paid overrides the morality of being treated so poorly within the workplace and because of this; we do not see a solution that gives the workers a promise of a better future.

This piece is truthful and cutting. In real life, there still is no sign of a respect for workers and Zeldin does well to highlight the fact that something must change, fast.  To 11-06-26

Elizabeth Halpin

08-06-16 

Index page  Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre