In my general theatre going habit I must admit I am fairly adverse to ‘State of the Nation’ plays. I normally go to the theatre hoping to escape from the world of tube strikes, high rents and gum stuck to the underside of your shoe and enjoy whirlwind romances and highly choreographed dance routines. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Zero Down is not only entertaining, but also holds up a mirror to the unfairness of zero hour contracts, greedy corporations and struggling families.
The play takes place in the staff room of a care home in a run of mill town, where the staff are only paid for the time spent in direct contact with patients and they live in fear of being ‘Zeroed Down’. When an explosive incident is caught by an undercover reporter, the politics of press ethics, poor-shaming and the hardships being on less that minimum wage all get tossed together to encourage viewers to look at both sides of the story before making snap judgements.
Sarah Heir’s script is excellently woven together and her ability to create realistic characters means that the play avoids becoming preachy. Although there may be a couple of kinks to iron out, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw this script turned into a BBC mini-film as the writing is punchy, accurate and thought provoking.
As the brash and gobby mum of three Benni, Katherine Hurley is outstanding. Her performance is intensely dynamic and she manages to switch from racist rants and swears to trembling fear effortlessly. I’m not normally one for gushing but I can hand on heart say hers was one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. As the sweet and innocent Leyla, Elizabeth Nicholson cleverly maneuverers around the character’s simple nature and brings out the hopeful optimism. As the struggling journalist Erin, Sadie Tonks takes a little while to warm up and over plays the higher class nature of her character, but by the play’s demount all three actresses have the audience on tenterhooks.
Although there were a few stumbles and minor technical mishaps, Zero Down is a fierce piece of writing full of gritty performances. So, if like me you tend to err to the lighter side of the theatrical canon, I thoroughly recommend this piece as your foray to the darker side of drama.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Zero Down is playing at Theatre 503 until 15 August 2015. Click here to book tickets