Four cleaners and their boss arrive in the twilight world of a meat factory afterhours. Though there is never any guarantee of work at all— they're all on zero hour contracts. Grace, played with poignant fragility and determination by Janet Etuk, is diagnosed with arthritis but prescribed 'fit-to-work'.
The workers line up against a blank wall and scrub it clean. Every four hours they have a break and share round biscuits. Their boss gives them questionnaires that ask whether they are orderly, calm, lively, argumentative etc and summons them to his office when they put 'neither agree nor disagree'. The audience is invited into snapshot moments in the lives of these cleaners living hand-to-mouth.
It's slow and subtle but Beyond Caring still packs a punch and achieves the rare feat of bringing a contentious issue to life and making the audience care without become accusatory, patronising or reductive. The humour, pathos and power of the play come from the accuracy with which it captures the cadence of awkward office small talk, smug managers and those too desperate to ask for help. As the workers are forced to work double night shifts with no rest for just an extra £31 the audience gasp at the injustice. Exhaustion, frustration and futility build to a moment of depressing, disconnected climax.
All five actors were impressive. Luke Clarke' s Ian was as hilarious as he was insidious, capturing the satisfied self-importance of a manager who gets a kick out of making others feel worthless. Sean O'Callaghan was understated and touching as the pitiful Phil. As cleaners Becky and Susan Victoria Mosley and Kristin Hutchinson were stoic and deeply vulnerable. And Janet Etuk's Grace was brilliantly bright and brave.
From the Yard Theatre to the National Theatre: Beyond Caring transfers
The glowing reviews from Beyond Caring's 2014 premiere and a poignant yet punchy subject matter caught the attention of National Theatre literary agents and earnt the show a place in Rufus Norris's inaugural season as Artistic Director. After Chewing Gum Dreams by Michaela Cole, this is the second show to begin at the Yard and come to the National.
Play based on real life issues
The creative team researched their subject matter passionately, coming across cases such as one woman in a coma being declared fit-to-work. Alexander Zeldin, Beyond Caring playwright, wanted to explore the instability caused by family upheavals or economics, and was inspired by Florence Aubenas, a journalist who went undercover to explore the minimum wage market in France. "[Audiences] can expect to see something quite raw hopefully," he promises of the production.
Culture Whisper interview Janet Etuk, Beyond Caring actress
We spoke with actor Janet Etuk. She originally collaborated with Alexander Zeldin whilst still a drama student. Etuk says the most difficult thing about the role was holding onto the character's pace.
"I'm personally quite energetic...but Grace is the complete opposite. Even more so suffering from arthritis. I had to really do my homework and talk to several people with the condition in order to get into Grace's body and move how she would move." She hopes that Beyond Caring will give audiences a glimpse into the life of someone working on unreasonable and unsustainable contracts. "The most rewarding thing about playing Grace," Etuk remarks, "Is being able to give a character like hers a voice. There are so many that don't have one."
|What||Beyond Caring, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
28 Apr 15 – 23 May 15, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book via the National Theatre|