Our favourite productions of 2017

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We’ve had premieres, modern adaptations and watched some shows receive West End transfers – the Manchester stages have been truly brilliant this year. Here is Upstaged Manchester’s round-up of theatrical highlights through 2017. Which shows would make your list?

The Suppliant Women at the Royal Exchange

The Suppliant Women was certainly one of the most extraordinary theatrical events that I have ever seen. Debating ideas of identity and asylum, the story strikes a shrill chord now – in our current migrant crisis – as it ever did over two thousand years ago. The most impressive aspect of this show was the chorus, made up of thirty-five girls aged between 16 and 26. Thrilling, shocking and painfully good. The Suppliant Women is just one jewel in what has been a bold and exciting season for the Royal Exchange.

The Father at Oldham Coliseum

Kenneth Alan Taylor in The Father at Oldham Coliseum © Joel C Fildes
Kenneth Alan Taylor in The Father at Oldham Coliseum
© Joel C Fildes

It is rare that we experience dementia from the perspective of the person who is struggling with it, rather we experience it from the viewpoint of family members and carers. Oldham Coliseum triumphed in presenting The Father, a highly engaging but charming, heart-rending though witty, interpretation of Andre’s struggle with the disease. With a tremendous performance from Kenneth Alan Taylor, many people were left moved as the show came down. This was a flawless production that managed to get people talking, sharing and understanding dementia together.

The Band at The Opera House

The Band is a complete triumph –  it’s not just a musical for Take That groupies, but a musical for anybody who grew up with a boyband. Tugging hard at your heartstrings and tickling your funny bone, with a sterling cast and Take That’s wonderful floor-fillers, I was thrilled to find out that the musical will tour for an extra year following the huge demand for tickets. Truly feel-good and fabulous.

Uncle Vanya at HOME

Director Walter Meierjohann brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word managed to strike new meaning. Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddled the tragicomic perfectly, giving the best Vanya that I have seen, and all of the ensemble gave top-notch performances. This interpretation of the Chekov favourite was completely consuming.

Reviewer – Elise Gallagher:

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester © Anthony Robling
Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
© Anthony Robling

 

My first review for Upstaged and my introduction to a fantastic venue – Hope Mill Theatre. A fresh musical which I feel took everyone by surprise and has introduced a new chapter of theatre in Manchester. I was thrilled to hear that Yank! received a well-deserved West End transfer.

Jane Eyre at The Lowry

One of my favourite stories translated onto the stage – it broke my heart (but in a good way!) and did Charlotte Bronte justice. Adapting a novel for the stage is a challenging prospect, especially such a timeless classic like Jane Eyre.

Reviewer: Daniel Shipman

Cotton Panic (MIF) at Upper Campfield Market Hall

© Charl Marais
© Charl Marais

Manchester International Festival audiences who ventured away from Festival Square, down Deansgate to the atmospheric Upper Campfield Market Hall were rewarded with a powerhouse performance from Jane Horrocks in Cotton Panic. This linked Manchester’s industrial heritage to the US Civil War in a truly enlightening way, whilst also serving up an innovative, entertaining, genre-defying piece of theatre. For me, it was the highlight of the festival.

People, Places and Things at HOME

Following a 2015 debut at London’s National Theatre, the touring version of Headlong’s People, Places & Things opened at HOME in September 2017. A perfect example of how to bring quality theatre out of London, this production drew on seemingly limitless reserves of energy to propel the audience through a tale of addiction and recovery. Lisa Dwyer Hogg had big shoes to fill after Denise Gough won an Olivier in the central role, but the power and nuance of her performance blew me away.

How to Save the World Without Really Trying at HOME

This was my first experience of self-described ‘drag aliens’ Bourgeois & Maurice, and I am already a devoted fan. The chemistry between the two is as good as you will ever see on stage, and the songs are well-written and hilarious. Get along to one of their shows if you possibly can, and if not check out their albums on Spotify.


Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year.

Wishing you all the best in 2018.

-Kristy Stott

upstagedlogo

Review: Hot Brown Honey (HOME, Manchester)

© Dylan Evans
© Dylan Evans
UPstaged Reviewer: Megan Hyland
UPstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

From the moment the women of Hot Brown Honey take to the stage, they immediately command your attention and awe. This award-winning show is an explosion of female rage against the systems that have held them back for so long and it is entirely unapologetic about it. It combines an eclectic range of dance, circus, striptease and song to deliver a truly powerful message that holds nothing back.

Kim Bowers a.k.a. Busty Beatz is the queen bee, here to educate and liberate us all. Armed to the teeth with striking quotes from fellow artists and activists, a pair of comedy breasts and some impressive rhymes, she does just that. From her position atop the hive, she fills the room with a volcanic energy and takes no prisoners. And as creator, musical director, composer and sound designer, she and fellow creator, director, choreographer and designer Lisa Fa’alafi have created a truly ground-breaking production unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – but will definitely want to see again.

However, beyond the colourful creativity and fun of the performance, there are some particularly poignant moments such as Crystal Stacey’s beautifully heart-stopping aerial piece about sexual assault. In another powerful piece, we see each of the women bring their cultures to life on stage, embracing their heritage through costume, dance and music. This show pushes all the boundaries and smashes every stereotype, fighting for the place of women of colour on stage and within society. It is a fierce, political battle cry that creates discussion and evokes feeling. It talks openly about every issue that it raises and teaches you that if you’re not angry already then you should be.

Hot Brown Honey is an independent feminist masterpiece that will make you think and leave you buzzing. The talent and confidence of these women is mesmerising, from Ofa Fotu’s stunningly soulful voice to Hope Hammi’s blazing beatboxing skills. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, Hot Brown Honey is selling merchandise, the proceeds from which go towards funding childcare for the working mothers of the cast. It is an empowering must-see performance full of laughter, joy and truth that is entirely faultless and will have you out of your seat joining in. In the words of the mother – fighting the power never tasted so sweet.

-Megan Hyland

Hot Brown Honey runs at HOME, Manchester until 23 December 2017. 

REVIEW: Forced Entertainment – Real Magic (HOME, Manchester)

©Hugo Glendenning
©Hugo Glendenning
Guest Reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Upstaged Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

As with much of Forced Entertainment’s work, Real Magic at HOME revolves around a set of established (but unspoken) rules. Here, these rules take the form of a game show that seems to be taking place in limbo – the three performers take it in turns to play a host, a contestant and a third role you could roughly describe as an expert. The expert thinks of a word and shows it to the audience on a piece of cardboard, whilst the host encourages the contestant to take three guesses at what that word might be. Their three guesses are always the same words in the same order, and they are never correct. This continues for the duration.

The problem with Real Magic is that it spends far too long establishing those rules and not nearly enough time playing within them, or having fun breaking them. There are well observed caricatures of all the archetypal game show characters; the contestant who acts as if they are performing an exorcism rather than a simple task, the host who has been in the job far too long and makes no attempt to hide their fatigue, the expert who gleefully expresses incredulity at the limitless stupidity of the contestant.

Whilst these crude characters can be fun to watch for a while, they make up the bulk of the show’s 90-minute running time and in my opinion, this is an over-estimation of how entertaining it is to watch. This is a shame because the moments when the cast really begin to have fun breaking the rules are the highlights of the show – Richard Lowdon illegitimately whispering the word ‘sausage’ across the stage got the laugh of the evening, despite the audience knowing that the contestant was doomed to failure anyway.

The show can be thought provoking. The contestant’s third guess is always money and when you see them shouting that word with increasing desperation, you begin to examine the ethics behind game shows – inviting people on TV to entertain the masses by humiliating themselves for the vague possibility of a cash prize.

An entertaining night in purgatory, but a night in purgatory all the same.

-Daniel Shipman

Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic runs at HOME, Manchester until Friday 1st December 2017.

REVIEW: Tank (HOME, Manchester)

Tank by Breach Theatre Company at HOME, Manchester until 6 May 2017
Tank by Breach Theatre Company at HOME, Manchester until 6 May 2017
upstaged rating: 

“Don’t even think in your own language. English, all the time!” says Margaret Lovatt, a volunteer researcher in a NASA-funded project to teach Peter, a dolphin how to mimic and understand English.

Led by John C Lilly, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, a dolphinarium was built and communication ‘training’ started. In a series of communication experiments – Margaret would live with Peter for ten weeks in isolation on the first floor of the flooded laboratory in an attempt to teach him English.

This series of events actually happened in the 1960’s and was later made into a BBC documentary, The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins, which formed the inspiration for this bizarre but nevertheless captivating performance piece from Breach Theatre.

Part verbatim. Part satire. Part experiment with narrative. The only tape recordings of the experiments are fragmented and sodden (they have to be baked before they can be heard) which means that the four performers construct the details in the story as it plays in front of the audience. They interrupt and argue over the details in the story – filling in the gaps as they go. The two male performers seem to get highly enthused by the woman-masturbates-dolphin narrative but the female performers stand their ground aligning the relationship akin to that between a farmer and his cattle.

Breach have expanded an incredibly rich metaphor in Tank. Both Peter the dolphin and Margaret the volunteer were positioned in the midst of an awkward situation. Remembering the social backdrop of the 1960’s – the dolphin whose needs are inferior to those demands of a human; together with the woman who is seen as subservient to a male scientist. Tank is about colonisation. Intelligently, Breach fire up the synapses and leave the audience to explore the themes and their beliefs around this themselves.

Funny, dark and brilliantly pitched. Breach’s use of sound, film and stylised movement all contribute in exposing the result of legitimising our actions against others in the name of science, humanity and the struggle for power.

-Kristy Stott

Tank runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 6th May 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

REVIEW: My Country; A Work in Progress (HOME, Manchester)

© Sarah Lee
© Sarah Lee
reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

In the wake of the political chaos of Brexit and the overhanging general election, My Country; a work in progress offered an insightful look at the divided opinions of our society. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver. Written by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, the play centres around six regions of Great Britain coming together to form a meeting in anticipation of the vote to leave or remain in the European Union. They bring with them the views and opinions of several people from their respective regions, in the hope that their voices will be heard. Taken from real interviews, these voices range from a 13-year-old boy from Wales to an 88-year-old immigrant in the East Midlands.

Penny Layden stars as Britannia, our disheartened and shaken country struggling to cope with the disconnections that divide it. Representing Westminster, Layden effortlessly portrays the politicians that lead us through Brexit and the aftermath of the vote. However, it is Christian Patterson that offers the most engaging performance as Cymru. His remarkable transitions between various characters are the most noteworthy, with each one coming to life individually. The enthusiasm with which he plays each character is admirable, although, the cast as a whole still gives a commendable performance. They work in tandem together to create a seamless and often astonishingly humorous performance. Their incredible effort and ability does not go unnoticed in this production, with their dynamic being a testament to the unity that the play aims to promote.

However, it seemed that perhaps an additional cast member was lacking, as although the play promotes itself as representing the views of the country as a whole, there was a lack of representation on stage for the North West. Particularly as the performance took place in this region, it seemed unusual not to have it mentioned.

Nevertheless, it is the unbiased and relatively diverse presentation of views in the play that make it particularly appealing. It offers the unfiltered, unflinching opinions of the general public on perhaps the most widely discussed topic of the past year. And although some of the words spoken are particularly hard-hitting and heavy in nature, Carol Ann Duffy’s wonderful wit and dry humour lighten the tone perfectly.

Unfortunately, as a whole, My Country fell short of expectations. There was an overhanging sense that it could have gone further with certain aspects, and disappointingly, there was no overall message to be taken away, giving the play as a whole no sense of closure. However, the talent of the cast is undoubtable, as is the incredible writing of Carol Ann Duffy.

-Megan Hyland

My Country runs at home until Saturday 22nd April 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: Narvik (HOME, Manchester)

Narvik presented by Box of Tricks Theatre - press pic 10 (102) - Nina Yndis as Lucya, and Joe Shipman as Jim Callaghan. Pic by Decoy Media
guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

In Narvik, Lizzie Nunnery has written a beautifully harrowing production, produced by Manchester-based theatre company Box of Tricks. The play – described by Nunnery as “a play with songs” – opens with 90-year-old Jim Callaghan suffering a fall in his home, and tells the story of what led him there. Flashback to World War Two, and Jim, a Liverpudlian fisherman docks in Oslo, where he meets the charming Else. Their story unfolds as Jim goes away to work as a radio operator on a Navy ship, and through the struggles of war and the horrors that he sees; the one thing that keeps him going is his memories of Else. His journey to get back to her is as captivating as it is tragic.

Joe Shipman stars as the buoyant and pragmatic Jim, giving an utterly outstanding performance. He displays faultless range, showing both the excitement of Jim’s youth and the fear felt in his old age. We see Jim falling in love, going to war and gripped by horrifying memories, which Shipman carries through seamlessly, giving an honest and powerful performance. But perhaps the core element in the play’s success in telling such an engaging story is the dynamics of the cast. Starring alongside Shipman is Nina Yndis as the endearing Else and Lucas Smith as Kenny, Jim’s closest friend on the ship. Yndis and Shipman captivate the audience with the sincere and youthful love story of Else and Jim, and the intense bond between Kenny and Jim is due to the humour and chemistry between Shipman and Smith.

However, a large part of Narvik’s charm and haunting poignancy is the music, also written by Lizzie Nunnery. The bittersweet romance between Else and Jim is truly felt through the enchanting lyrics and the voices of the cast, with one of the most beautiful vocal performances coming from band member, Maz O’Connor.

Director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder has created a simplistic but truthful production, in which the talents of the cast are allowed to excel without overshadowing Nunnery’s spectacular writing and songs. Also noteworthy is the innovative use of lighting (Richard Owen) and sound, used to create a sense of time and place in a tasteful way that didn’t distract from the touching performance.

Narvik is a compelling and moving production of a love tested by war and a friendship tested by love. It is unpredictable in its narrative and overwhelming in its heart, and overall is utterly unmissable.

-Megan Hyland

https://homemcr.org/production/narvik/Narvik is showing at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 4th February 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

REVIEW: The Trial (HOME, Manchester)

people-zoo-the-trial-image

reviewer: megan hyland
upstaged rating: 

The Trial is a thrillingly absurd adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel of the same name, adapted by People Zoo Productions. Josef K, honourable citizen and profoundly innocent man, is told on the morning of his birthday that he has been arrested. The audience follows K as he tries to prove his innocence to the unjust and strange legal system that he finds himself entangled in. But not knowing what he stands accused of, and fighting against an unidentified, immeasurable power, how much is his innocence really worth?

William J Holstead stars as the protagonist, displaying remarkable physicality and masterful control, telling the story of one man’s desperation in an emotional and thoroughly committed performance. Holstead acts as a guide for the audience through this peculiar situation that K has found himself in, and as quickly as Holstead has built up the character in the opening scenes, he begins to tear him down, as we see just how far one man will go to prove his innocence. In such a dark and disturbing narrative, however, the rest of the cast provide some much-needed comic relief, all acting in multirole, with Adrian Palmer and Sarah Legg standing out in particular. Palmer’s excellent character acting and Legg’s performance as K’s moralistic and over-sexed landlady are outstanding.

The play itself can only be described as bizarrely entertaining, with well-written and clever dialogue that keeps the audience engaged even despite the nonsensicalness of the plot. The remarkable humour and intrigue that the first act creates outweigh the unusualness of the storyline, and instead supply it with a strange charm. The second act, however, is incredibly intense, with some exceptional performances and gripping scenes that send some powerful messages that are still relevant today.

Director Craig Sanders has created a wonderfully offbeat dark comedy, managing to portray both the nostalgia and relevance of Kafka’s work on the stage. Paired with the intense music of Dennis Tjoik and the simplistic but expressive set design, the effect is a thought-provoking combination of surrealism and farce. These are two things that the play combines effortlessly, transitioning frequently between slapstick humour and highly intense scenes with ease and fluidity. And although the storyline itself is quite non-traditional and perplexing, once the eccentricity of the production itself is embraced, it makes for a captivating and unusually amusing watch.

-Megan Hyland

The Trial is performed as part of PUSH Festival at HOME, Manchester. PUSH Festival runs from 14th January – 28th January 2017 and the full festival brochure is available by clicking here.

Our Favourite Productions of 2016

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With all of the big Christmas shows in full swing, it feels like a good time to look back at the highlights of a busy year for theatre in Manchester. Here are Upstaged Manchester’s theatrical highlights of 2016. Which shows would make your list?

 Wit at The Royal Exchange

Julie Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal of Dr Vivian Bearing, an American Professor who finds herself diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, was striking and raw – nothing short of magnificent. Cancer is a hard subject matter to tackle on stage, especially in a performance as honest as this. Wit had everything. Powerful enough to make some cry and poignant enough to make everyone laugh, think and discuss.

The Girls at The Lowry Theatre

The Girls at The Lowry, Salford © John Swannell
© John Swannell

 

I am just so pleased that The Girls is on its way to the West End and is set to open at London’s Phoenix Theatre from January 2017. The collaboration between Gary Barlow and Tim Firth is a perfect recipe for success. Hilarious and heartbreaking all at the same time, I spent most of Act 2 looking through a blur because my eyes were so teary from laughing and crying at the same time. Just fabulous.

Husbands & Sons at The Royal Exchange

Husband’s & Sons had the perfect line-up of creatives and performers – all of the best in the field working together on one show. Director Marianne Elliott, of War Horse and Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, at the helm of a truly phenomenal cast – including Ann-Marie Duff and Louise Brealey. Fused with Bunny Christie’s ingenious design, Husband’s & Sons was heartfelt and gritty. So good, I wanted to watch it all over again.

The Encounter at HOME

A strikingly different theatre experience to anything that I have witnessed before. Every member of the audience is issued with a set of headphones and using cutting edge audio technology  is transported to the Amazonian rainforest and into the head of Loren McIntyre, a stranded photojournalist. The Encounter is gripping,  an adventure story which gets inside your head. Literally.

Parade at Hope Mill Theatre

I always enjoy James Baker’s productions massively – with every show he raises the bar of the Manchester Fringe Theatre scene a little higher. Parade was nothing short of a triumph. The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre added a further dimension to the production – intimate and powerful, something quite special.

Origins at The Lowry Theatre

Origins by Animikii Theatre. Developed with The Lowry.
Origins by Animikii Theatre.
Developed with The Lowry.

An intense new piece of physical theatre by Animikii Theatre Company exploring the story of the world’s first murderer: the killing of Cain by his brother Abel. Captivating storytelling communicated only through movement and sound. Adam Davies and Charles Sandford are highly skilled performers and with every detail loaded to perfection, Animikii Theatre Company are certainly ones I’ll be watching out for in the future.

 

Rambert: A Linha Curva at The Lowry

Now in their 90th year and still leading the dance world with their innovative and exhilarating dance works. A Linha Curva is sensual, witty and terribly good. The dancers are faultless, moving alongside each other in a truly intoxicating display. Rambert may be 90 this year but they show no sign of standing still.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes at The Lowry

Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes ~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
~Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page~

The Red Shoes is a breathtaking balletic display – a beautifully tragic tale poignantly told. Terry Davies’ musical score, using the music of golden-age Hollywood, and Lez Brotherston’s ornate set and dazzling costumes ooze 1940’s glamour. Following it’s sell out run in 2016, it returns again to The Lowry in July 2017. So if you didn’t catch it this time round, get your ticket booked for next year!

Sweet Charity at The Royal Exchange

Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity © Richard Davenport
Kaisa Hammarlund in Sweet Charity
© Richard Davenport

With its irresistible Cy Coleman musical score, supervised by Nigel Lilley and directed by Mark Aspinall, played superbly by a live band; an ensemble that dazzle and a top-notch central performance from Kaisa Hammarlund – Derek Bond’s Sweet Charity is an absolute must-see. At the Royal Exchange until 28th January 2018 – there is still plenty of time to bag a ticket. You’re welcome.

REVIEWER: CIARAN WARD

A Streetcar Named Desire at The Royal Exchange

Sarah Frankcom’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’  modern domestic tragedy, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, was an exhilarating piece of theatre that warranted much more than a five-week run. Maxine Peake’s effortless performance as the fallen Blanche DuBois was every bit as riveting and worthy of acclaim as her predecessors, Vivien Leigh and Gillian Anderson.

REVIEWER: DEMI WEST

GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe at The Dancehouse Theatre

The ‘GM Fringe 2016: Fast Fringe’ show was by far the most memorable comedy that I have enjoyed this year. The selection box of comedians kept the show fresh, each offering a diverse style of comedy that was sure to please all audience members. The Fast Fringe is a brilliant way to sample and discover different comedians, along with guaranteed laughs.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you – thank you for all of your support this year. 

Wishing you all the best in 2017.

-Kristy Stott

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REVIEW: The Emperor (HOME, Manchester)

Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor © Simon Annand
Kathryn Hunter in The Emperor
© Simon Annand
reviewer: Megan Hyland
upstaged rating: 

The Emperor tells the story of the fall of the infamous Haile Selassie, Ethiopian Emperor between the years of 1930 and 1974. The play is based on Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s book, in which he interviewed the servants of Selassie after his downfall. It is a glimpse into a world of corruption, poverty and absolute power, through the eyes of those who worked under the Emperor throughout his tyrannical reign.

The shapeshifting Kathryn Hunter plays each character with such spirited passion and vigour, with no crossover in between, each character is a personality in their own right. Her voices and mannerisms bring the characters to life in an inspiring and vast performance, transforming herself completely. The limited costume and props leave the characterisation to fall into Hunter’s very capable hands, and she does not disappoint. Every character has their own tone, and she switches effortlessly between the emotionally raw and vulnerable to the closed off and political. Through every character, we were able to build our own image of the Emperor, making him almost as big of a presence as the characters on stage.

The combination of Hunter’s masterful character acting and Temesgen Zeleke’s beautifully haunting live music created the sombre yet heartfelt tale that ran alongside the Emperor’s dictation and downfall – the loyalty and love of his servants. Although the Emperor was the main focus of the production, you can’t help as an audience member to feel drawn to Hunter’s characters. She plays them with such vitality that it becomes difficult not to become immersed in their world. And although the story itself was deeply interesting, especially since it is so little known, the production itself was held up by Hunter’s incredible talent. Her performance was pivotal to the success of the play, as any other attempt at such a bold and demanding role possibly would have caused the whole production to fall flat.

Mike Gunning’s lighting and Paul Arditti’s sound combined with Walter Meierjohann’s poignant directing created an intense, albeit slightly bizarre show that is not to be missed. The quick changes in tone left audiences reeling, never quite sure whether they should be laughing or crying, but Hunter made it flow naturally. Temesgen Zeleke’s music and the inclusion of the Amharic language of Ethiopia in his side characters added a subtle authenticity to the piece, making it all the more credible.

The Emperor is an honest and engaging piece about a part of history that many people know little about, creating a lot of discussion. However, what stands out for many is Kathryn Hunter’s faultless performance and energy that carries the piece throughout.

-Megan Hyland

The Emperor is at HOME, Manchester until Friday 30th September 2016.

For a taster of this FIVE STAR show, please watch HOME‘s trailer…

REVIEW: Beyond Caring (HOME, Manchester)

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood
upstaged rating: 

Beyond Caring pulls the filthy wall away to reveal the reality of working life for the night shift workers on zero-hours contracts in a meat factory. Employed as cleaners on agency contracts, their work is physically demanding and repetitive and they don’t always get paid on time. Alexander Zeldin’s perception of life on the lowest rung of the employment ladder is precise, darkly comic and painstakingly accurate.

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood

Designer Natasha Jenkins has managed to make Theatre 2 at HOME feel just like an industrial warehouse. Harshly lit by bright white strip lights from above, there is the smell of cleaning products and pungent damp mops in the air. We learn snippets about the characters lives during their 15-minute lunch breaks before they continue with the arduous task of cleaning the meat factory.

The whole piece has been devised by the company through investigation and talking to those who have experienced zero-hours contracts. The show centres around the introduction of three new agency workers to the soul-destroying and dingy walls of the factory: Grace (Janet Etuk), Susan (Kristin Hutchinson) and Becky (Victoria Moseley). Led by factory taskmaster Ian (Luke Clarke), the three women join with permanent employee Phil (James Doherty) to work the night shift. Hints are threaded throughout the script to indicate why the three are so desperate for the job – it’s authentic, real and at times, difficult to watch.

Beyond Caring © Graeme Braidwood
Beyond Caring
© Graeme Braidwood

Luke Clarke’s supervisor Ian has a ‘David Brent’ air about him, conducting pointless team meetings and describing his self-indulgent spiritual beliefs; though despite the shades of black comedy, the piece takes the subject matter seriously. As somebody who has worked in a zero-hours environment, I could relate to the way he treated his workers, which made for uncomfortable but achingly real viewing.

-Kristy Stott

Beyond Caring runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 16th July 2016 and you can get your tickets here.