If you’ve been living a safe, healthy lifestyle under a rock, then you might not know that the NHS has been doing less than fantastic as of late. Underfunded and overcrowded, it’s a serious topic for political conversation and, apparently, plays.
It’s hard to form a solid opinion about any of the characters or issues before a new piece of evidence arises to force that opinion to be reconsidered
Set in the break room of the care home, Zero Down focuses on the relationships between the three ‘workers’ between their odd jobs. Leyla (Emma Fisher) is a bit dim and submissive, but harbours big dreams. Her best friend Benni (Katherine Hurley) is aggressive, racist, and homophobic, but knows the patients better than anyone. And the sweet new girl, Erin (Sadie Tonks), is really an undercover journalist looking for a story. These character profiles demonstrate an ambiguity central to the show: it’s hard to form a solid opinion about any of the characters or issues before a new piece of evidence arises to force that opinion to be reconsidered. Over the course of the hour-long production, Erin’s cover is blown, one of Benni’s kids gets sick and Leyla gets stuck in the middle of the increasingly tense situation. Zero Down never lets its audience stop thinking.
But somehow, the play fails in any emotional engagement. It’s no fault of the actors; all three gave stirring, human performances. Nor is it a mistake on the part of writer Sarah Hehir. Her script manages an impressive feat in presenting these totally different characters without showing a subconscious preference. Rather, it ties in to the total ambiguity central to the play. Zero Down’s characters aren’t contemptible, but neither are they likeable. And without that emotional tie with an audience, their drama remains incredibly distant.
A good drama needs to engage both hearts and minds. Otherwise, you can end up with pointless sentimentality or ideas trapped in the land of theory. Though I’m impressed by the talent displayed by Zero Down’s team, they never get both engines running.