Theatre review: Zero Down

Katherine Hurley, Emma Fisher and Sadie Tonks are care workers making different but bad choices

Katherine Hurley, Emma Fisher and Sadie Tonks are care workers making different but bad choices

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Take care if you feel like judging

Star rating: ****

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

Benni is trying to get Wonga “off her back”; Leyla is planning to open “a classy” pole dancing club and Erin is reading a book on frontline female reporters. All of them work in the Silver Apples Care Home, a place that hides the kind of cost-cutting that costs lives behind the veneer of a glossy PR campaign.

The news stories behind the play, of neglect and abuse, are familiar, but the characters behind them are less so – and what Sarah Hehir’s sharply observed script does so well is give them a voice. Or three. When middle-class student Erin starts helping Leyla with her business plan, the hard-nosed, jealous Benni dubs her “silver spoon”. A rivalry develops beneath which is a deeper issue: that of educated, well-intended liberals passing judgment on working-class prejudice, having experienced none of the disadvantages that cause this to grow.

Benni blames “these illegal immigrants” for everything – something Erin, an aspiring journalist, laudably challenges. However, Erin is not the voice of compassion she initially seems and makes a devil’s pact in order to further her own career, but in doing so throws aside the two other women she professes to want to help.

Katherine Hurley, Emma Fisher and Sadie Tonks are all excellent as the three distinctive, vivid, likeable and flawed care workers, each aspiring for bigger, better things in a world that is stacked against them. The shocking state of the care system, occupied by unscrupulous private companies only interested in making money out of a growing elderly population, underpins every bad decision Benni makes.

While it’s impossible to excuse her actions, Hehir’s superb writing also makes it impossible to judge a woman who’s overworked and underpaid, wiping arses and clearing up sick, while we sit watching in the theatre.

Until 29 August. Today 1pm.

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