Culture House Daily

The Tories have little to fear from this latest luvvie attack on its policies

15 July 2014

Zero-hours contracts: refuse to work with one, and you might lose your benefits. To the Left, it’s preeminent proof of the Coalition’s malevolence, a brightly blazoned slave contract clutched in a cold Tory fist. So it’s no wonder that the lefty press has seized upon Beyond Caring, Alexander Zeldin’s new play about the invisible working poor, as one big ‘fuck this Government, basically‘.

The Guardian starts its puff-preview with a reminder that ‘16 per cent don’t get the hours they need to make ends meet and one-in-four would like more work‘ (we hear little about the other 84 per cent). The original report from which the Guardian selectively quotes in fact concluded that ‘zero-hours contracts have been unfairly demonised and oversimplified‘. Given all the Government is currently doing to abolish real slavery, it’s all a bit egregious.

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Which is a shame because Beyond Caring, which Zeldin devised and directed, is a far more subtle, contemplative work than its critical fans and its aggressively political marketing campaign suggest. There’s precious little griping about government policy or abstract economics; instead of agit prop, we get five gentle character sketches. It’s an elegy to an invisible class: four industrial cleaners (sorry, ‘members of the hygiene team’) in a miserable meat factory, three on zero-contracts with agencies, one despondently clinging to his full-time job, all dependent on the changing demands of jobsworth overseer Ian (Luke Clarke). If that sounds like a downer, what makes Beyond Caring eventually engage its audience (albeit late into the hour and a half running time) is the depth of suppressed emotion pressured into each performance.

This is character-driven theatre at its purest: Hayley Carmichael’s Susan, possibly homeless, probably hiding it, is a heart-shattering study in powerlessness. Susan, Grace and Becky are agency workers, which means they’re subject to constantly changing shifts, and unpredictable pay delays. When the latter strikes, it means a night without a hostel for Susan; for Becky (Victoria Moseley), damaged and brittle, it means bullying the softer Grace into a quick loan, even though Grace is in trouble with loan sharks herself. Though there’s the odd reference to ATOS (evil), benefit cuts (thoughtless) and poor worker protection (so much for poor Grace’s no-heavy-lifting clause), this isn’t really a play about the political causes of poverty. It’s a play about what unremitting poverty does to the soul, where poverty is not starvation, but life without dignity.

But it’s precisely this dedication to character sketches that makes it difficult to really care about Beyond Caring. Each of Zeldin’s characters, with the exception of Clarke’s charisma-free zone, feels dense with backstory, the result, one suspects of weeks or months of improvisation. We’re only granted glimpses of what is clearly lurking in the background – is Becky’s daughter in jail, one wonders, or why else is she kept so far away? Why does Phil, a gentle, compelling Sean O’Callaghan, lock himself away in the bathroom every so often quietly to weep? But at some point, one assumes, Zeldin is bound to tell us something.

Or not. The influence of Mike Leigh’s improvisational method is clear: these are rich characters, impeccably researched before being released on stage, but then given precious little to do. At times Beyond Caring is so naturalistic that it runs the risk of being as boring as everyday life. Certainly, it needs a plot, and in the absence of one, the evening can feel deceptively long indeed. But while it is underdeveloped, it’s also full of promise. And the Yard Theatre’s commitment to developing new work is the basis of its ascent to east London arts powerhouse (the food is good too). Beyond Caring feels like a work in progress, but it deserves a second life.

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Show comments
  • Terry Field

    The left is cretinous because it fails to ‘get’ modern economics – I mean by that, the lying leftie leadership gets it, promotes it, and wishes it to intensify. It is globalising capital employment, and it inevitably means that the East and the New will become less dirt poor, and the Wets – the old – will become less rich.
    That means less rich in both relative and absolute terms.
    In order to con the cretins the labour party moans about symptoms – reducing living standards for millions of working people – and therefore fails entirely in identifying the real need – and that is to manage the British – and western economies in general – to greatly reduce inequality and increase economic achievement by all who can work. That means helping millions who work for low incomes, but also creating a low employment tax environment.
    There will need to be done in the context of a balanced budget, and with a repayment schedule of massive debt that is (hopefully) tolerable.

    SO what do the putrid leftie liars come up with:
    1 Whining on about an economic symptom that is unavoidable – reducing living standards for the vast numbers of the population exposed to global competition – when they should describe it as such and talk intelligently about the support systems needed
    2 Employ bloody stupid actors to con people with their self-seeking and usually ill-considered interventions to make the idiotic think the moon is made of green cheese.
    Reality is the BIS report that condemns – soft money policies are a ruinous disaster – the bloody left want even more of it.
    The left never changes – exploit the poor and the stupid whenever it can.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    I’d be very happy with zero-houris contracts being offered to jihadists.

    • Terry Field

      They don’t get 72 virgins, they get 72 apple trees – so when they arrive, A says Hello old chap, care for a GRANNY SMITHS???
      HA HA

  • figurewizard

    Does this Zeldin character understand that it was Labour’s addiction to public spending, no matter what that resulted in a broken economy which has only recently begun to come under control after four hard years? That and the 850,000 new jobs Labour added to the public sector, with no perceivable benefit to the long suffering tax payer attached is why we owe over £1.2 trillion while not forgetting the £100 billion a year that is still being added to that.

  • Ben Cobley

    The name Zeldin rings a bell, as does this sort of approach of delving into real life stories to illustrate social issues – both nodding towards the very fine writer Theodore Zeldin, whose ‘Intimate History of Humanity’ really opened my mind up back in the day. From looking Alexander up on Google I see he is a nephew of Theodore. Good to see the father has passed on a fine tradition to his son…

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