'Beyond Caring' review or 'Overtime on overtime.'

'Beyond Caring', Alexander Zeldin
Temporary Theatre, National, 1st May 2015 
Written for Time Out

It’s hard to tell when this mesmerising show about a group of cleaners on zero-hour contracts actually begins. The lights stay up throughout, Natasha Jenkins’ realistic set barely feels like a set, and the performances are so well pitched that the cast doesn’t seem to be acting. But by the end of director Alexander Zeldin’s quietly compelling production, I could barely breathe. 

The play unfolds in a crummy backroom in a crummy warehouse, where three cleaners – alongside permanent worker Phil – have been hired to work a 14-day shift. Most of their time is spent sweeping and mopping but they are also required to use a vacuum cleaning machine – ‘The Beast’. As the cleaners struggle to get control of this beast, we begin to get a feel for their powerlessness. 

Zeldin devised the show with the company and the script has an easy rhythm and authenticity to it. There are few big plot twists or barn-storming speeches – instead, Zeldin lets the conditions speak for themselves. He grinds us down with relentless industry as we watch the cleaners mop, sweep and scrub. Long silences stretch out, filled only with grunting and the quiet hum of the warehouse. 

The actors quietly dazzle throughout. Kristin Hutchinson’s prim Susan reveals incredible reserves of bravery and Victoria Moseley’s Becky struts furiously about the edges, angry at her life and everyone in it. When friendly giant Phil (Sean O’Callaghan) reads his book out loud to an exhausted Grace (Janet Etuk), the stage tingles with warmth. In this world of zero-hour contracts, these little acts of kindness offer a rare moment of respite and control.