During a week of frantic creativity at the Arebyte Gallery in Hackney Wick I popped over to the Yard Theatre to see a play which looked intriguing: Beyond Caring.
I had no money, due to those swines at Orange rinsing my account, so I begged the very lovely Lucy to let me in in exchange for writing a review (promise kept!).
I took my seat in the bricks and concrete interior; already noting the heat, the awkward plastic seats, the stained walls and rough floors; a perfect setting for a play about factory work.
The performance began surreptitiously, the hulking, jean-clad Phil reading a book at a metal table. Soon, 2 white women, Becky and Susan, walk in, take plastic chairs and sit with him, until the foreman, Ian, tells them to sit facing him. A third woman, Grace, frazzled and black, comes in late.
They’re addressed in the ritual monotony of middle management, talked down to, as children. A moment of tense amusement arrives as they’re instructed in the use of a mechanical floor polisher, which the black woman loses control of; she later, when the room is empty, gets it out again, just to demonstrate her autonomy.
Each scene ends with an abrupt blackness and eerie noise; there is a sense of impending doom throughout, offset with occasional black humour. The tragedy of people treated as chattel, slaves almost, who, in the eyes of the overseer, don’t have existences outside the rota, is brought out by young mum Becky’s appeals to Ian to see her daughter for her birthday, by Grace’s arthritic pain being ignored (or worse that she’s too afraid to show her pain in case she loses work), by Phil’s psychological disturbance that leads him to locking himself in the toilet.
The only let up is the brief interlude where downtrodden Phil reads horse-chaser Dick Frances’s novel out to the rest of the cast, including daft German accent – this too is soon ground out by Becky’s glowering appearance.
I look around at one point, during the gruelling and unpleasant 90 minutes and wonder, how many people here have actually experienced work like this. I have, only briefly, and I saw in the uncomfortable postures and hands to mouths of some of the young, a horror of meniality, of being lost in this world where trivial oversights can lead to public humiliation, of being poor.
2 more incidents stick out: the realisation that Phil and Becky were once lovers is nailed home by a very realistic sex scene which managed to shock even me, and the final tableau of the cast scrubbing the torture-device-like sausage making equipment; a nightmare out of the mind of Bacon.
The next day asked the assistant director/ stage manager what had informed the decision to omit an intermission. She replied it had been deliberate, in order to make the audience sympathise with people regularly trapped in 12 hour shifts with no guarantee of work the following day. She added that she’d been surprised when a local tory MP had commented that she “was glad it wasn’t political” and had tweeted the same. Clearly she doesn’t understand what political means, as this work about work makes one reflect deeply on the nature of money, servitude, class and our common humanity.
Coda: on returning home, my mother was talking about her friend Maggie’s son,who had a new play on at the Yard theatre. I said, what was it about, with a strange feeling. She said something about Zero Hours and I felt dizzy – it turns out Maggie’s son was Alexander Zeldin, the playwright . What’s more I’d forgotten the guys name, but had, that morning, bought a book by Theodore Zeldin, which I had bought at a charity shop in Wallingford, with the idea that my mother might be interested in it. Theodore Zeldin is Maggie’s brother!