ZERO DOWN, Theatre503 - Review

Ever since the inception of the global economic downturn in 2008, there has been a development – I say development, really it's the devolution of first world labour laws – that's taken us back to working practices not seen since the Industrial Revolution: the introduction of 'zero hour contracts’. Recent plays such as Alexander Zeldin's Beyond Caring have highlighted the psychologically stressful and dehumanising effect this has on those with low paid jobs, and in Sarah Hehir's play Zero Down, how this impacts on the elderly in care homes. Hehir's last play Child Z didn't pull any punches, despite its dark subject matter and similarly Zero Down is unflinching in terms of spelling out the minimal level of service that care workers are expected to give, who are caught in the middle.

Erin, Leyla and Benni are working the night shift at Silver Apples Care Home. Erin, the latest recruit is a student, using the job as a stop gap inbetween studying, but for long-term friends Benni and Leyla, it is the only job available to them due to their respective circumstances. Leyla is the most congenial and open of the three, and her heartfelt wish to open a dancing bar that’s sexy but ‘classy’.

Erin's favourable treatment from the management rubs Benni up the way, especially as the powers-that-be have ‘zeroed down’ her hours for taking more than the bare minimum of care and effort with the residents. However, Benni’s naked contempt for Erin is taken to another level when it comes to light that not everyone has been on the level…

Looming behind the care workers upstage, the diaphanous 'toilet cubicle' resides. As the only Wi-fi hotspot in the room, much time is spent there trying to contact loved ones in the outside world and serves as a reminder that even when a character isn’t visible, they’re always there.

Hehir’s three-hander, which is directed by Sophie Boyce, is a great play for female characters. Each are well-defined, and while some are more obviously ‘agreeable’, all are complex and show contrary facets of their personalities. Katherine Hurley really sells the abrasive, but worried Benni – kept on edge by the endless stream of calls from her mother about the health of her child. Polar opposites to Benni in terms of background, but equally resolute in her own way, Sadie Tonks’ Erin knows that whether she follows her conscience or not, there will be long-term repercussions. Being a mediator can be a thankless task, but Elizabeth Nicholson’s Leyla shows the requisite amount of grit to tactfully challenge Erin so that she will at least think twice about her options.

Of all the things to remember from the play, the one that will forever remain with me is the screen in the lounge where the care workers stay, waiting to clock on and off. For me this is where it sinks in that healthcare in this environment is about doing as little as possible for maximum profit. Since when has the value of a person’s life, of their dignity, become so cheap that it’s secondary to the bottom line?

Zero Down opens up all sorts of questions, questions that need to be asked. And while it offers no definitive answers, the play does place the onus of responsibility in our court. There’s a time and monetary cost to providing adequate healthcare. There is perhaps a greater cost, of a personal kind, to speaking out when the system falls short. But can one be sure the bigger picture is viewed with clarity?

© Michael Davis 2015

Zero Down runs at Theatre 503 until 15th August 2015

@angelcornertc/ #zerodown

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