Kate Maltby Kate Maltby

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

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.

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.

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Kate Maltby
Written by
Kate Maltby
Kate Maltby writes about the intersection of culture, politics and history. She is a theatre critic for The Times and is conducting academic research on the intellectual life of Elizabeth I.

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