Following its critically acclaimed run at the National Theatre, Beyond Caring is now on tour.
It's a production that works exceptionally well at this venue: a bleak, industrial setting for a powerful piece of physical theatre that packs a punch and is darkly funny.
The play details the work experience of four people on night shifts at a meat factory. They're employed as cleaners by a temp agency and are on zero-hours contracts. Every shift, they graft. Every four hours they take a break. They chat, and occasionally communicate.
As you'd expect from a piece that's been written via devising with the company, there's spot-on ensemble playing throughout from the cast. Luke Clarke is all too convincing as the team leader - a minor managerial cog - and a right prat with real power over his staff. The only challenge to him comes from Victoria Moseley's Becky; this is a vivid portrayal of a woman on the edge - pent-up, an accident waiting to happen. Kristin Hutchinson is very good, too, in a downbeat role as an older woman, eager to please and fretting about whether she can ask the team leader about the missing wheel on her bucket.
There's some lovely playing between Jane Etuk (Grace) and James Doherty (Phil). She has a disability but has been cleared for work; he's the 'old timer' at the workplace, monosyllabic and a fan of the novels of Dick Francis. An unlikely friendship (of sorts) starts to develop. and it's quite moving. While it lasts.
On the debit side, the scripting is a bit thin, and doesn't allow for any character development. These are people minus back stories. Maybe that's the point? That these are characters alienated by their working conditions? People who are estranged, from one another and from us. Welcome to a bleak new world with no triumph of the human spirit - and not a shop steward in sight.
Still, brutal though it is, it is undeniably gripping. It's very ably directed by Alexander Zeldin; lighting design (Mark Williams) and set and costume design (Natasha Jenkins) work a treat. There was a standing ovation from the audience on opening night.