I Hate It Here

Mar 22 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Love it here

Summerhall: Tue 21 – Wed 22 Mar 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

There are no winners in Sweet Beef’s magnificent I Hate It Here, touring to Summerhall for two nights only, which dives smoothly from joy to desperation in its exploration of zero hour contract culture.

In a show that brings immersive fun, brilliant dance and glittering lip-synch routines to the stage while a digital clock remorselessly counts down an hour, the four strong company also succeed in exploring and exposing the societal peril of zero hour contracts.

Conor Dumbrell as Tara in I Hate It Here. Pic Alex Brenner

Thrust directly into the worry of zero hour contract culture, audience members are all given a number on entry, with a contract to sign. Having signed, three are called up to the stage at random, for their first hour of work.

This selection already creates a frisson of tension, as the superbly exuberant Sarah Farrell, exuding false positivity as superintendent Shelley, gets everyone to cheer and holler at the prospect of joining the zero hours workforce. It’s all great fun, but the fear of actually being called onto the stage is always there.

The immersive layers of the show continue throughout, alternating with depictions of the three chosen workers’ lives. At some points, as the lights dim, they come up the aisle, interacting in character, at other times it is Shelley with her ever-present clipboard who instigates another bout of gung-ho enthusiasm.

One of the many clever elements of the production, devised by Sweet Beef under the dramaturgy of Lou Doyle and the direction of Jess Haygarth, is the way it personalises zero hour contracts with characters who are hugely familiar in our lives, but who are here seen from a different angle.

increasingly frantic

Conor Dumbrell is agency nurse Tara, sitting at home with her six year-old son when she is called for a shift that night. As a single mum, she spends the whole hour engaged in increasingly frantic phone calls in an attempt to find a baby sitter for him.

Dumbrell brilliantly fuses the relaxed and the frantic. The drama of home life – watching The Weakest Link or phoning round – is set against the occasional depiction of Tara on a ward when she is calmness personified. You have no doubt that, as a nurse, you could trust her with your life.

Imogen Mackie Walker as Spud in I Hate It Here. Pic Sweet Beef.

Imogen Mackie Walker is all adrenalin bounce as 18 year-old Spud, working shifts in a fast food chicken joint, where he’s both undermined by his boss and abused by his customers. Walker is quite the thing, as Spud collapses into a toilet stall to take five and organise a night out, or goes out raving knowing that he will have to be back at work straight away to pay for the night out.

Against such energy, Nkara Stephenson brings a superbly empathetic feel to care giver Patsy, as they talk through the hour long slots of each day. Stephenson’s portrayal of an older person is subtly done, as they move from person to the next, emphasising the benefits of continuity in care and the upset for both care giver the person cared for, when patterns change for no apparent reason.

strong dynamic

Against the flashes of realism, the hyper-real elements of the production, its lip-sync, dance routines and interactive gameshow elements, all add a strong dynamic to the whole piece under Sarah Lamb’s movement direction. Well judged design by Ruby Brown, lighting by Laura Howard and sound design by Hattie North all add considerably to the whole – and adapt admirably to the space.

And all he while, the motif of Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five hovers in the background. Cut up and rephrased, it just emphasises the downward slope that worker’s rights have taken since she first sang about pouring herself a cup of ambition.

Sweet Beef have created a clever, accessible and hugely entertaining piece, which pushes and plays with the envelope of theatrical form in a most satisfying manner. Even while it highlights the soul-destroying nature of its subject matter.

Running time: One hour and five minutes (no interval)
Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL.
Tue 21/Wed 22 March 2023
Evening: 7pm (Red Lecture Theatre).
Tickets and details: Book here.


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