Alexander Zeldin’s guest performance “Love” was the discovery of last year’s Berlin Schaubahn research festival. In his semi-documentary theatre, the British author and director shows, for all its brevity, everyday life very vividly in a lodge of a shattered welfare state: sorted people. Small gestures, hesitation, or a powerless fit of anger are enough to reveal whole life stories of decline and shattered hope: it is enough to look closely. And if we look closely, in a sympathetic or unemotional way, Zeldin could like some of the other directors of contemporary theatre. After an hour and a half of the show, you got to know everyone in this dorm as if you had spent half your life with them.
Another play by Alexander Zeldin can now be seen in the Berlin Schaubuhne, this time in the House’s own production: Beyond Care. It’s Zeldin’s first directorial work in Germany – and one can hope that this world stage director will appear more often on German theaters. Beyond Care is another sober, unenthusiastic look at the less underserved areas of society. If “love” is about the human price of social exclusion, this time it’s about dirty work in the low-wage sector. We accompany the slaughterhouse cleaning battalion on their night shifts. It is his third adaptation of the play, after Zeldin’s 2014 London premiere and production in Chicago. In light of the scandal surrounding the exploitation of slaughterhouse workers in Tunis, it seems surprisingly up-to-date. Obviously, the dirty side of capitalism does not differ much between countries. It’s hard to beat the cleaning crew’s break room when it comes to dimmer neon lighting. If you have to rip your shifts between the slaughterhouse waste and the wet room, you better not have illusions about purposeful work (Theater & Costumes: Natasha Jenkins).
Michael (Kay Bartholomäus Schulze) has been here for two years, a stoic, understated person who wants nothing more than to read his crime novels Dick Francis during the breaks of his shifts. Schulz shows extreme fatigue, complete despondency of a decent person who knows that life does not have many pleasant things waiting for him. Sonia (Julie Boy), Becky (Julia Schubert) and Ava (Heaven Tekken) are the newcomers, who were initially hired for two weeks by the temporary employment agency or assigned to a minimum wage job by the employment agency. There may be a permanent position later, but until then they must be on call at all times, as if they were the serfs of the company for some low-paid night shift. Jule Böwe gives her Sonja a kicked creature helplessness, who thanks foreman Jan (Damir Avdik) submissively on the instruction sheet with a shy smile. During the break, she relieves herself with the same deep sigh (“That’s nice when you’re at rest”) and devours her crackers, thirsting for sweets, as if this were her deliverance from the endless layers of plaster.
“What can you do to make time pressure more enjoyable?”
Blonde tomboy Becky has more self-confidence in the proletariat, but perhaps this was an illusion that this “filth” is not the end of her biography. When the foreman’s jokes follow, he immediately cancels the Saturday she was so desperately requesting so she can take time out for her daughter. Ava is the youngest, a newcomer to the job market whose shy and warm-hearted friendship is about to be fired. Foreman Jan loves to have the little dictator in his battalion. Like the cartoon, he copies management fads in personnel management when he asks his people about their motivation: “What can you do to make time pressure more enjoyable?”
Zeldin Theater shows a hopeless situation in endless episodes. It doesn’t have any major plot twist or major escalation, though Ava breaks down in a double fit and Becky breathes out her obnoxious and desperate pressure by brazenly and forcefully pushing Michael into a short, rough sex. This view of melancholy thrives on unemotional sympathy for the characters and meticulous knowledge of the environment: Zeldin knows what he’s talking about. To understand what working life is like below, he and the actors had long conversations with the cleaners. So that the representatives know what the factory plaster layer looks like, they put it on themselves, starting at five in the morning. As a result, the cleaning brigade’s performance often gives the world of work enough of what it calls the unqualified: dignity.