Presented by Sweet Beef Theatre
Presenting I Hate It Here, Sweet Beef Theatre has produced a vibrant, immersive, interactive comedy about the harsh realities of zero-hour contract work. The production follows four characters, all linked by the ever-present, foreboding presence of “The Company”.
Introducing the show with a generous helping of toxic positivity is Sarah Farrell’s Shellie, welcoming their darling audience, espousing the benefits of the “unparalleled level of work-life balance” of the zero-hour contracts they encourage the audience to blindly sign, thrusting a number into their hands upon entry. Initially appearing to be a one-note pawn of “The Company”, Farrell’s performance develops the character, allowing the audience a glimpse of their internal struggle before returning to insincere motivational quotes and high-energy line delivery.
Having signed, seated, and awaiting their first hour of work. An immediacy of stomach-knotting discomfort, mingled with excitement greets the audiences now they have some, but not enough, of an idea of the going on in Sweet Beef’s work. The depths of immersion never falter, audiences find that even as they breathe a sigh of relief at not being chosen, the cast at regular intervals walk up and down the Summerhall aisles, Farrell taking tremendously malevolent glee in having the audience cheer or wail at the prospect of their zero hours workload.
Drawing the relatability out of their performance, Conor Drumbell’s Tara succeeds in bringing an emotive physicality to the production, highlighting the key downfall of the instability of zero-hour contract work for single parents. Drumbell commands the audience’s attention and sympathy while demonstrating the harsh reality of needing to accept additional shifts, no matter the timing, for fear of the harsh repercussions of not doing so.
usual worst day of any service worker, Imogen Mackie Walker depicts the teenage Spud’s struggles with rude customers, a demeaning manager and the anxiety induced by their zero-hour contract job interspersed with engaging audience interactions. Rounding out the cast, Nkara Stephenson’s caregiver Plang reminds us of the dedication and heart that people put into their work and the impact of inconsistency on both the carer and those cared for.
The audience interactions, while appearing spontaneous and unique, are perfectly timed and placed. The production’s staging is simple, dwarfed by the foreboding one-hour countdown that matches the pace of the storytelling. It’s a staggeringly effective, and efficient use of stage design from Ruby Brown, and while the space isn’t strictly the largest, Sarah Lamb’s movement direction ensures an infusion of momentum with the hyper-realistic elements, bordering on surreal, with lip-synchs, dances and further interactive game show elements.
A thought-provokingly witty, accessible, and thoroughly entertaining piece of immersive theatre, which never strays from the path of intention, ensuring a small slice of the audience’s realism is emboldened. Sweet Beef Theatre’s weaving of relatable and heart-wrenching character-based storylines with high-octane physicality and humour, memorable dance routines and the Golden Gamble game show (brought to life with Laura Howard and Hattie North’s lighting and sound) all keep the audience on their toes and a lump in their throats, while never detracting from the clear message about the downfalls of zero-hour contracts and the toll they can take on people’s lives.
I Hate it Here run at Summerhall has ended, their next performance is at the Niamos Radical Arts Centre.
runs for one hour and five minutes without interval.
Tickets begin from £8.30 and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Alex Brenner