The figures are stark. Almost 1.4 million people estimated to be at the mercy of zero hours contract with no guarantee of minimum hours or pay with more than 1 in ten employers said to use the system. That leaves an awful lot of people scraping a living, barely above the poverty line. Yet the government says the economy is on the up, unemployment going down.
The reality can be something quite different. And theatre at its best can show precisely that – giving voice to the voiceless and the forgotten. Especially cleaners.
Alexander Zeldin has worked with Peter Brook and Beyond Caring is a prime example of how effective `poor theatre’ can be with its minimalist, stark setting and begrimed walls. When Victoria Moseley’s Becky sidles in through doors leading from the yard outside, followed by Hayley Carmichael’s Susan and Janet Etuk’s Grace, the space is immediately inhabited by a tangible sense of real characters.
Zeldin’s devised script is pretty minimal and what of it is there is, is sometimes almost inaudible. That’s the price you pay for `uber naturalism’. But the style certainly creates its own world investing every movement, gesture and sigh with meaning.
Beyond Caring’s three women are cleaners in a meat factory, supervised by Luke Clarke’s Ian with an abrupt monosyllabic sense of right to rule though scarcely older than the cleaners themselves. Sean O’Callaghan’s crumpled 50 year old Phil makes up the fifth member.
Over the period of an hour or so, a bit like watching paint dry, not that much happens. The poverty and desperation of the workers’ situations gradually begins to emerge with sickening force: Becky craving love indulges in a hurried liaison with a guilt-ridden Phil; Phil wants to grow closer to the sickly Grace and Carmichael’s Susan just wants somewhere to put her head down.
Zeldin’s Beyond Caring, a vivid but tender indictment of zero contract hours work as little more than modern slavery forces us to see cleaners in a different light. The Yard’s history as a former warehouse too provides a perfect canvas on which to write a particularly shameful aspect of our modern times.