One of the blessings of living in London, or at least within an easy commute, is the access to theatreland and, especially, to our wondrous and brilliant and… you get the idea… National Theatre. Outside it is a rather ugly structure, a series of concrete boxes that even lovers of Brutalism might struggle to praise but inside the space is imaginative and the auditoriums (auditoria?) superb. Recently work has been undertaken to develop the Cottesloe and rename it the Dorfmann. Alongside this work, which has muddled the eating arrangements somewhat – which annoys the latent curmudgeon in me, a temporary space has been erected. Looking like a mini power station clad in red lego, the Gallery is a Spartan space with an intimate feel and is used to showcase new talent and ideas.
The Textiliste and I decided to have a dabble and went to see Beyond Caring. This is the blurb that the National puts out.
Four people arrive to work the night shift in a meat factory. They meet for the first time. They are employed as cleaners, by a temp agency. They are all on zero-hours contracts.
Every shift, they clean. Every four hours, they take a break. They drink tea or coffee together. They read magazines. They chat. As it gets light, they go home, or to another job. The cycle goes on. And on. Strangers. Until something stirs, until isolated people get too close to one another, too fast.
It sounded intriguing. Zero hours contracts are a hot topic politically just now with a lot of mixed views about them so that attracted us.
We settled into our seats. The theatre was full; the set and the audience overlapping with no traditional stage and we waited for the play to start. A young woman, earphones plugged in enters. Looks around and shuffles about, clearly not comfortable where she is. Then another, older woman enters. A man, clearly comfortable in his environment wanderers about and goes to the toilet.
It had all the hallmarks of a gritty kitchen sink drama. You expected tension, characters ready to explode, friction.
But we just got dull. The routine of a dull job with people going through the motions. Occasionally when one character wanted an afternoon off it looked it might spark. But it didn’t. Not really. The woman to my right began to snore. Her companion picked at something on the glass of her watch.
One character had a disability. She struggled with the work. She received a warning from the supervisor who raised a small laugh with some mindless management speak. A man sitting below me compulsively crossed and uncrossed his legs; I worried he might catch himself and squeal inappropriately.
There was no interval; no ice cream. The flyer slipped from my fingers and I just caught it before it glided towards the action – well, the inaction.
The disabled woman fell asleep at the table; two other characters stared at each other. They moved in close. Gradually but inexorably, like an oil tanker turning round they kissed, groped and disrobed, discretely but actually, and simulated sex. The man, I think, method-acted an orgasm but he could have swallowed a boiled sweet. The sleeper didn’t shift.
Sex over, they re-robed and retook their places at the equipment they were cleaning. The sleeper woke and took her chair to clean in a sitting position. This was significant; before she had been in her knees. I concluded she had now established her position in the group dynamic. Up to this point the supervisor had supervised but now he took up a brush and started cleaning himself. I thought this had a deep meaning; a metaphor that, together with the intercourse, we understood the team had bonded and become one.
People started applauding. Did they know it was over or were they just hopeful? I stayed put, rather uncertain but the Textiliste wanted a coffee so we headed for the exit.
The actors worked very hard; the back stage crew did all that might be asked of them. It only cost £20. And it was warm and out of the rain. But I did miss my ice cream.