Croydon can be a depressing place at any time (trust me – I live 5 minutes away) but on a cold, windy night when it’s raining cats and dogs, then it’s as miserable as it can be, especially if you’re a night shift worker trying to earn a living in these difficult times.
Award-winning production company Zoo Co is celebrating their 10th anniversary with their latest production Night Shift set and performed in their hometown of Croydon. It tells the story of various night shift workers from a lowly paid zero-hours delivery driver to a more highly paid trauma surgeon along with others such as railway workers, hotel restaurant chefs and others. These are all people who make the lives of those of us who work “normal” hours easier.
Night Shift starts with the story of a stressed mother who to make ends meet is working for Amazon as a delivery driver. She’s obviously under a lot of pressure to get her deliveries done without falling foul of her bosses and the atrocious weather isn’t helping. We then get to meet various other night shift workers as they go about their business. Apart from those mentioned above, we meet an Uber driver, a busker, a club DJ, a petrol station attendant, an emergency call centre telephonist and a Croydon councillor. At times their lives intertwine as their paths cross in various locations across the borough.
What takes Night Shift from out of the ordinary is that Zoo Co casts are all-inclusive with deaf, disabled and neuro-diverse actors performing amongst hearing, non-disabled and neuro-typical actors. In Night Shift there are a number of deaf actors including the Uber driver and the surgeon who meet up with another deaf character when getting into the Uber – a coincidence they’re not shy in pointing out.
The premise behind Night Shift is an admirable one but the production falls short on a number of levels. It’s presented as a series of scenes, some of which are far too long and others are just fragments. In fact, length is a problem with the production itself as it’s far too long and unbalanced with the two hours split into a first act of around eighty minutes and a second act of just under forty. Some of the scenes are superfluous and repetitive and we don’t get to learn any more about this interesting group of characters. There’s a lot of ranting from the local councillor which adds a political element to the piece and is probably deserved as Croydon council have just gone bankrupt for the third time in a short time but what has it got to do with night shift workers?
Also, the production itself is confusing. There’s some interesting and creative movement especially when the ensemble is representing the delivery driver’s van but at other times it just doesn’t work. There’s also some interpretive dance behind a gauze screen in a couple of scenes that is just odd. Also, sometimes we get props and sometimes props are mimed – once again a lack of consistency that jars. As there are a number of deaf performers, subtitles are projected on the wall, however, these are sometimes out of synch which is confusing and why when one of the characters speaks French, are the subtitles in French?
Another problem is that we don’t get a real sense of time. The busker has just finished so it’s not that late, the delivery driver is still delivering so it’s not the middle of the night but the club DJ is finishing so it must be late – mustn’t it? If so, why does the arrivals board at East Croydon station say 10:00pm?
Zoo Co are interesting and imaginative theatre makers and their work with a diverse group of performers is worth celebrating. Unfortunately, Night Shift lacks focus and tight direction which means that its flaws dissipate its strengths which is a shame as there’s a kernel of story there about a section of the working population that we forget about and it deserves its place in the sun even though it’s played out on a cold, rainy, miserable night in Croydon.
Review by Alan Fitter
Unfolding over a single night shift, an unlikely group of night workers, who have more in common than they realise, are embroiled in a life-changing series of events. What follows is an epic tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, as an ordinary evening turns into an extraordinary night.
Just one year after taking the Barbican by storm with multi-award winning Perfect Show for Rachel, Croydon-based Zoo Co presents this bold and visually stunning new show.
NIGHT SHIFT by Zoo Co