REVIEW: York Actors Collective's 'Beyond Caring'


Cara Doherty (she/her) reviews a recent Theatre@41 production of Alexander Zeldin’s play

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Image by John Saunders

By Cara Doherty

The last time I was this nervous walking into a theatre, I was the one performing. After heading into rehearsals and chatting with director Angie Millard and the cast a few weeks ago, I’ve raved to friends and family about the York Actors Collective’s Beyond Caring continually. Now, five of my friends are braving a particularly cold and wet Thursday night for some live theatre in the homely black box setting of Theatre@41. Thankfully, the show was everything I expected it to be: a fresh, funny and full-hearted showcase of local talent and passion.

Beyond Caring was devised by visionary director Alexander Zeldin and the original company back in 2014 to explore a topic and tension that remains contemporary: the bleak reality of zero hour contract work. Starting at the interview stage for three new temporary workers and then following through their successive night shifts, the audience is given a documentary-like insight into the lives of five strangers crashing together for a moment in time.

Stage manager, Em Peattie, creates a simple but effective set – soulless but functional, just as the play’s insipid night manager Ian would likely approve of. I appreciate the added detail of placards projected onto the stage, delineating “An - other Night” or “Machine Clean” and effectively breaking up the play’s steady rhythm while also highlighting the monotony of the work.

The emotional core of the piece is found in the relationship between Chris Pomfrett’s quietly kind Phil and Grace, played by Victoria Delaney. Grace suffers the most with the physical demands of the work, recently taken off of disability benefits but struggling with pain management for her rheumatoid arthritis. Delaney’s Grace charms her colleagues and audience effortlessly, always quick to engage the group in benign chatter and laughter. Soon she forms a closer connection with Phil, who she gently leads out of the shell he has hidden in since he lost his wife. Their friendship – like much in the play – is timid and tentative, but I felt myself rooting for a happy ending that I resignedly knew the realism of the play would never permit. One of the most heartbreaking scenes is a simple and poignant moment: Grace, crying from pain and frustration, is read to sleep by Phil. Played with an understated tenderness, Phil’s struggle and eventual finding of his voice acts as a beacon of hope in the bleakness.

Friendship manages to be both surface-level and heartfelt in the play, as documented by the relationship between Becky and Sam, played by Claire Halliday and Mick Liversidge respectively. They’re a pair that don’t appear to belong together, one a feisty and hard-headed woman struggling financially and personally – the audience discovers she is only allowed to see her daughter once a week – and the other a social chameleon that hides the fact that he doesn’t have anywhere to sleep. But they strike up an easy camaraderie, joking and jibing their way through the long nights. Angie’s directorial style, which prioritises collaboration and improvisation, fills the characters and their relationships with authenticity worn casually by the talented cast.

Neil Vincent excels as the soulless night manager Ian, who borders sadistic in his mental and physical torturing of Grace - that is, when he can be bothered. A painful reminder of managers I’ve worked under in the past, Vincent still cleverly maintains the counterpart of this kind of character: that they are unintentionally hilarious. Lengthy, senseless rants about how he “is sort of his own God” (real quote) are well-received by the audience, his monotonous speech patterns punctuated by equal parts laughter and groaning.

Discussing with my friends afterwards, they were left yearning for answers. Do Grace and Phil get together? Does Ian finally get his comeuppance? What’s next? But this isn’t a play of answers, much as real life isn’t. The lack of firm, beginning-middle-end storylines was exactly what made me rave about this play for weeks. The audience are offered a privilege – a no- holds-barred look into a few days in the lives of five individuals trying, failing and trying again. Little is insinuated or encouraged or told.

Whatever you take from the play, whether that be questions or answers, is sent out into the void – or maybe the mirror? Beyond Caring seems to say just one thing: it’s your choice.

Editors Note: This production was seen 8 February 2024 at Theatre@41 Monkgate.