CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Happy meals but very unhappy staff

Following the wave of strikes that hit McDonald’s in 2017, play follows young employees at a fictional fast-food restaurant

02 September, 2021 — By Conrad Landin

Eliza Gearty

“IT’S not all about the money,” the manager at fast-food restaurant Tasty’s tells Shaun. “What else is it about?” replies Shaun, a teenager worker. The manager replies: “Respect, of course.”

Eliza Gearty’s play About Money tells us just how hard it can be to support your loved ones when there’s no bread on the table. Its context is the wave of strikes that hit McDonald’s in 2017. Back then Gearty, who grew up in Kentish Town but now lives in Glasgow, where the play is set, travelled 400 miles with colleagues in the Bakers’ Union to show solidarity with striking workers.

“It felt like quite a momentous occasion,” she says. “That was why I decided to explore one worker’s situation.”

Shaun takes all the shifts that God (or his manager) sends in order to keep illegal custody of his young sister Sophie. But that means entrusting her care to his unreliable friend Eddie.

Meanwhile, Hannah, a new recruit at Tasty’s, has been transferred from a London branch where workers successfully went on strike for better pay.

It’s a narrative that resonates with Michael McCardie, who plays Shaun in Gearty’s play. “The whole point of working is to provide for this life,” he says. “But if you’re working all the time what life are you providing for?”

For Emma Tracey, 24, who lives in Finsbury Park and plays 8-year-old Sophie, the play calls real-life experiences to mind.

Working at a bar in Glasgow aged 20, she was “slammed with shifts” because she could legally be paid just £5.60 an hour.

She had left the job by the time trade union Unite Hospitality began organising at her workplace. “Even as a young person, you don’t have to live like that,” she adds.

Director Alex Kampfner, also born and bred in Camden, says the play is “really saying the care system doesn’t offer enough to young people”.

The play can’t provide the answers, but it does show the consequences of a world where young people feel they should fight for justice alone – when they would have a far better success of doing so collectively.

About Money, a co-production with 65% Theatre, is at Battersea’s Theatre503, September 6-8. See theatre503.com

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