YORK Actors Collective is following up March 2023’s debut production of Joe Orton’s risqué Sixties’ farce Entertaining Mr Sloane with Beyond Caring, a topical exposé of the social damage inflicted by zero hours contracts.
Running at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, from February 6 to 9, this “modern-day tragedy” was devised by Alexander Zeldin and the original Yard Theatre cast in East London in 2014, later transferring to the National Theatre.
Its story of agency cleaners at a meat-packing factory is being directed in York by former teacher Angie Millard, working with a cast of Victoria Delaney, Clare Halliday, Mick Liversidge, Chris Pomfrett and Neil Vincent.
Over 90 unbroken minutes, Beyond Caring follows two women, Becky and Grace, and one man, Sam (replacing Sarah from past productions in a directorial decision), as they confront the reality of minimum wage, zero-hour contract employment, never sure of how many hours they have to work, when they will be paid and whether their ‘job’ will continue.
“This play is remarkable in its structure and power,” says Angie. “It totally represents 2024 where many workers are on the breadline, trapped in employment with no guarantee of further work and no way to improve their position.
“What drew me to the play, however, is the message it conveys about people surviving and keeping a sense of humour. I loved the intensity of the piece with its silences, its disappointments and its determination to determination to get pleasure out of the smallest things. It gave me hope.”
Beyond Caring was brought to Angie’s attention by fellow company co-founder Chris Pomfrett, who had played the self-aggrandising Ed in Entertaining Mr Sloane. “Following that debut show, our brief was to find something that would appeal to audiences as entertaining but also have an edge to it,” he says.
“I had a look at a lot of play synopses around particular subject matters, came across this one, bought a copy and was completely blown away by it. When it was first done in London, then at the National, it was described as ‘comically devastating’ and that’s absolutely right.”
Beyond Caring forms part of a series of Alexander Zeldin plays entitled The Inequality Triptych, addressing the theme of the impact of austerity. “This one deals with a group of people meeting for the first time to work the night shift cleaning a meat factory on zero-hours contracts, all employed through a temp agency with different arrangements for pay for each of them,” says Chris, who plays scarred, taciturn worker Phil.
“So they’re all strangers, and as happens when strangers meet, there are silences and awkward pauses, like in Harold Pinter’s plays, but they’re all full of meaning.
“Gradually, you see glimpses of their lives and their insecurities, and how that affects them and those around them, mostly adversely.”
Chris continues: “I think it’s important for us to do plays that deal with these issues, as they’re still occurring. One of the things that has struck me, after Mr Bates vs. The Post Office is how a TV drama can have a massive impact on the Government’s actions, and that’s because people are confronted with real characters, and there’s an emotional response that you don’t get with news bulletins.
“The same goes for a play like this, and the great thing about all the characters is that in some ways you can see yourself in them.”
In Chris’s case, he can draw on his own experiences working in the community for the NHS (National Health Service) as part of the combined therapy multi-disciplinary team. “You can see the effects of the care system being shot to pieces,” he says.
Clare Halliday will be making her York Actors Collective debut after more than a decade of involvement in York community productions, such as the 2012 York Mystery Plays, when she first met Angie.
“I learned that Angie had created York Actors Collective and went to see Entertaining Mr Sloane, then heard they were doing Beyond Caring and auditioned for the role of Becky [one of the cleaners] after reading about the play and watching extracts from when it was at the National,” she says.
“Becky is a very resilient character, very tough on the exterior. I see her as a born survivor with ways and means of surviving, using her sexuality to get what she wants, in the only way she knows how. We assume she’s had very little education, and we know she’s a single mum, whose daughter is not living with her – she’s probably in care – but she’s trying to see her.
“I can relate to that, as I’ve had work insecurity and been on benefits, so at some points in my life I’ve walked similar steps.”
Clare now runs the Clare’s Kitchen mobile cookery school in York, being involved with schools since 2015. “Before that, I was living in France, training as a chef, and I wanted to work with children, having been involved in cooking in the kitchen with my mum since the age of two or three,” she says.
“I work with Year One to Six children at Knavesmire Primary, Ralph Butterfield Primary, Haxby, Rufforth, Dringhouses and Lord Deramore’s. I’ve just taken on another lady to help as I’m so busy.”
York Actors Collective in Beyond Caring, Theatre@41, Monkgte, York, February 6 to 9, 7.30pm; February 10, 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York