Review: Beyond Caring, National Theatre
Beyond Caring is a curious play; curious in that it feels slow and, dare I say it, a little underwhelming while you are watching, but it is only afterwards when you realise how it has quietly got under your skin.
It's a Yard Theatre production written and directed Alexander Zeldin, and devised with the company, and is set in a sausage factory where three women have been employed on zero hour contracts to clean at night alongside full-timer Phil (Sean O'Callaghan). There is a lot of cleaning.
They are supervised by Ian (Luke Clarke) who pops in every now and again to assert his own brand of management on the team. But this is a play about strangers who find themselves in the same situation, working unsociable hours doing a job very few would do if they could avoid. You'd expect one of them to be chatty and loud but none of them are. There are long periods when nothing is spoken and they are getting on with cleaning, hence why it can feel a little slow; the communication and character revelations come from their body language and behaviour.
What you get from this is a sense of what it feels like to be living on the bread line with no control over your work/life choices or even working conditions. For example, the team end up working a double shift under the guise of having a choice. And Ian never comments on Grace's medication breaks but you get a sense of his disapproval and how intimidated Grace feels by him.
Ian's clipboard, multiple-choice answer, appraisal of their performance is laughable, laughable in an incredulous way. There is quite a bit of that in this play.
And yes you do get to see the actors doing a lot of cleaning, probably a bit too much cleaning but the day after seeing Beyond Caring I couldn't stop thinking about Grace, Becky, Susan and Phil and whether they were going to be OK.
This is subtle theatre with beautifully nuanced performances. This is quiet theatre that requires a little patience but isn't any less powerful for it. I'll definitely be looking out for more work by Yard Theatre.
Beyond Caring is playing at the National Theatre's Temporary Space until May 16. It is 90 minutes long without interval.