Beyond Despairing

Article @ Morning Star, published 16 July 2014

Imagine a play portraying a life so dark and so depressing you’d think it’s set in a dystopia but it’s not.

That’s the reality of this play, prodigy director Alexander Zeldin’s newest work. But it’s also the experience of hundreds of thousands of people subjected to the precariousness of zero-hours contracts which this innovative piece depicts. 

It’s brought to life by the talent of the actors, pivots in Zeldin’s devising process, who invite us into the world of  the totally destitute Susan (Hayley Carmichael) who, along with Grace and Becky (Victoria Moseley), joins Phil (Sean O’Callaghan) as new members of the “hygiene team” at a nondescript sausage factory. 

All are subject to the draconian rules of zero-hours contracts and the diktat of the staunchly neoliberal self-made man Ian (Luke Clarke). 

What ensues is an indictment of austerity Britain, poverty in work and the dehumanisation of working-class people. It reveals how the  pecking order between low-waged workers and admin staff — not much better paid and just as miserable — is created. 

And it poignantly shows the merciless reality of benefit cuts as arthritis-plagued Grace — magnificently played by newcomer Janet Etuk — is made to do heavy lifting and intensive cleaning because the boss doesn’t believe in “preferential treatment.” 

Everyone is alienated and angry and common experiences and pleasures, like loneliness or music, fail to bond them together. 

Zeldin takes full advantage of the Yard Theatre’s warehouse space, creating a world where the only source of light comes from flickering fluorescent tubes and lunch and toilet breaks are monitored by the second.  

It’s harrowing to watch but an absolutely necessary piece of theatre which focuses not on the individual or the ideal but about what is happening in the here and now to people we might share bus and supermarket queues with. 

A must-see production, though not one I would necessarily recommend to anyone currently out of work.