THE HOSPITAL IN THE TIME OF THE REVOLUTION
by Caryl Churchill.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 16 April 2013.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm Tue 2pm.
Runs 1hr 40min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 October.
Early play from another medium still holds attention.
With her assured command of stage-craft and dramatic structure, it’s easy to forget Caryl Churchill’s early work was for radio and TV (The Ants, possibly her first published play, was included in a Penguin anthology of Radio Drama). This 1972 piece was also originally broadcast, and Jim Russell’s staging respects this (while conveniently fitting with a production played on a stage set for another Finborough show) by playing on a tight space surrounded by white drapes, designer Rachel Stone giving a suitably clinical feel to events.
Its neutrality helps too in a piece composed of scenes which shift between several small groups comprising cases in a mental hospital during the French battle against Algerian independence in the 1950s (a struggle depicted with analytical skill in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 film The Battle of Algiers). Hospital was one of two Churchill plays from 1972 with mental health at their heart, both based on others’ books – in this case, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.
Russell’s production uses the limited space to create the sense of a consulting room, dialogues not involving Fanon identified by being played to the sides, or by characters standing and walking. There’s a coolness to the scenes which points attention to the dialogue. Playing has a similar coolness, though that doesn’t exclude the sense of characters wrought with their own mental tussles.
Though Fanon is the observing doctor, sometimes seated among the Finborough audience, he is one of only two characters individually named (Frantz Fanon went on to join the Algerian struggle). The other is Francoise, daughter of a French official in Algeria. Her sudden refusal to speak or eat is linked to hints that her father, Monsieur’s, important work is linked to torture, which runs behind the interviews and meetings in the play, whether involving European, African or officialdom. A giant, manipulated body-puppet with sad face stands in for torture victims, without the necessity for ‘acted’ agony.
Kenneth Price’s hefty self-importance and Ruth Lass’s maternal smothering are finely caught, alongside Ruth Pickett’s nervous disengagement. Miles Mitchell is efficiently tactful as Fanon in a well-chosen cast.
Monsieur: Kenneth Price.
Madam: Ruth Lass.
Fanon: Miles Mitchell.
Francoise: Ruth Pickett.
Young Doctor: Will Rastall.
Patient C: Tim Pritchett.
Patient A: Benjamin Cawley.
Nurse: Giovanni Bienne.
Police Inspector: Simon Yadoo.
Director: Jim Russell.
Designer/Costume: Rachel Stone.
Lighting: Derek Anderson.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.