Beyond Caring Takes On Zero Hours Contracts

Sarah Stewart
By Sarah Stewart Last edited 39 months ago
Beyond Caring Takes On Zero Hours Contracts ★★★☆☆ 3

A brief moment of kindness in Beyond Caring. Phil (Sean O'Callaghan) comforts Grace (Janet Etuk). (Photo: Mark Douet)
A brief moment of kindness in Beyond Caring. Phil (Sean O'Callaghan) comforts Grace (Janet Etuk). (Photo: Mark Douet)

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

This is a brutal, stark and uncompromising work exploring the dehumanising impact of zero hours contracts and low-wage work. Three agency workers, cleaners in a meat processing plant, meet in a grimy warehouse loading bay/workers' break room before the start of their shift. The shift foreman, Ian (Luke Clarke), treats them like cogs in a machine, alternatively brandishing punishments (poor work reviews) and rewards (the vague possibility of gaining full-time employment).

It's a system that gradually dehumanises everyone, forcing them to compete with each other and treat each other poorly, resulting in increasingly mechanical, inhuman behaviour while at the same time fuelling emotions until they ignite and manifest in extreme ways. The workers have no rights. Their pay is delayed and they can't refuse extra hours of work imposed on them at a minute's notice. Their pay is so low that losing a pound in the coffee machine is a catastrophe. Their situation plays out in gritty realism, among the remains of litter and grease-smeared grey walls.

The workers are stretched to the limits of what they can endure physically and mentally, and it's here that we start to see their individual situations as the piece unfolds: Grace (Janet Etuk) suffers from arthritis and has difficulty keeping up with the relentless pace, but has been taken off benefits and forced into work. Susan (Kristin Hutchinson) may be homeless, and attempts to sleep at work once the other employees leave. She also hoards biscuits and stolen rolls of toilet paper. Becky (Victoria Moseley) is the only one openly expressing her anger at the inhumanity of the work situation, but even she has to submit, though it denies her a chance of spending time with her child.

In spite of the absurdity and bleakness there are moments of humanity. Phil (Sean O'Callaghan), the only full-time employee, reads sections of his novel to Grace and Susan at a work break, and even Ian breaks his managerial totalitarianism to explain, with great awkwardness, his philosophy of life, even though it alienates the others. Yet for all these too brief moments, the piece becomes increasingly bizarre as personal boundaries are transgressed and dignity lost.

Beyond Caring runs at the National Theatre, South Bank, until 16 May. Tickets: £15/£20. Some explicit sexual content. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

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Last Updated 03 May 2015