Beyond Caring runs until 11 June at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre; it promised dark undertones from the outset and certainly delivered.
Being led to the stage itself rather than the usual plush seating was refreshing, and coupled with being directed through the 'staff' doors to get to our seats it allowed us to immediately immerse ourselves in the background of the story of the cleaners.
From what initially appeared a seemingly mundane and innocent set-up of the cleaners carrying out their daily duties quickly descended into a horrifying behind-the-scenes view of others' struggles, concealed behind their everyday façade. The transition from suitably awkward conversations with long silences and trivial remarks to the very emotional journey and finale was expertly carried out by the talented cast, who collaborated very well together to create utterly believable characters.
Each had strongly defined personalities to live up to, and all did consistently well: Ian (Luke Clarke), bossy, arrogant, self-important; Susan (Kristin Hutchinson) timid and submissive, swiftly turning to panicked desperation; Grace (Janet Etuk) eager and positive to begin with and descending to the crumbling and fragile husk of herself we see in the finale.
James Doherty as Phil was cheerfully quiet and docile, blossoming beautifully into the caring father figure in his later interactions with Grace, a stark contrast with the abrupt change in his persona during his 'brief encounter' with Becky, played by Victoria Moseley; loud, volatile and gloriously Liverpudlian.
Lighting and sound were used to great effect to enhance the unnerving uneasiness: single strip lights flickering, bold blackouts, the almost constant background hum of bright strip lighting, with the highlight being in the end sequence, the lights gradually dimming during an intense repeated sequence of clanging buckets, sloshing water and manic scrubbing, expertly creating a sense of being enclosed and overwhelmed with pressure. The realism was further extended with a commendable use of props; the only slight criticism would be the layout of seating resulted in some moments of action being missed and some audibility problems.
Despite this, Beyond Caring is thoroughly intriguing to watch, and to reflect on afterwards and certainly warranted the completely full audience it had. Alexander Zeldin, the cast and crew should all pride themselves on devising and successfully performing such a unique, yet relatable story.
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