by Nina Raine.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 5 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm & 2 Feb 2.30pm.
Audio-described (+ Touch Tour) 5 Feb 3pm.
Captioned (+ speech-to-text post-show discussion) 1 Feb.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 January.
A Tiger burning bright in the dark heart of a loved, yet flawed institution.
Rather like democracy, the National Health Service is the worst form of medical provision, except all the others. Sensing it to be inefficient and wasteful we cling to it, partly for when we need medical help without the prospect of huge bills or dodgy insurance – and partly as a criterion of a good society’s values.
Dramatists including Peter Nichols, David Edgar and Andy de la Tour have used the NHS as a symbol of the nation, or examined it in terms of political promises. Now Nina Raine takes a cool look, in a mix of action and discussion, directing her new play on a sweeping disc between two curving audience sections, the shape of designer Lizzie Clachan’s layout reflecting the off-kilter behaviour of a service where medics can be coolly unwrapping sweets one moment, lining up to handle emergencies another.
Amidst the dashing, the sketched-in personal relationships (the least successful, but also least significant part of the play, providing opportunities to process information for audiences) and onstage operations – some of these shown on wall-projections, as are configurations of bacilli – the play follows the informal induction of aspirant surgeon Emily into a hospital’s institutional culture.
As her idealism begins hitting procedural buffers, and she learns who is boss in the operating theatre, Raine contrasts a far more experienced figure, seen breaching professional ethics when she has a personal interest in a patient. Yet her experience and professionalism mean she can carry out the job of telling someone they are dying with magnificent tact and every appearance of compassion.
Nobody’s perfect, but nobody’s despicable in Raine’s theatre. There’s nothing to fault in the performances, with including Ruth Everett as the newcomer to reality, Thusitha Jayasundera as the self-assured expert unable to see her own rough edges and David Cann as both the anaesthetist over-riding Emily’s impracticality and a TV actor becoming reconciled to his mortality with quiet dignity.
Tiger country is a doctors’ name for unexpected situations arising during an operation. Raine smoothly mixes action and character to suggest that, for most of us, the term could apply to the whole NHS.
Mr Mercer/Mr Leffe/Gillian’s Husband/Anaesthetist: David Cann.
Mark: Pip Carter.
Rebecca: Sharon Duncan-Brewster.
Emily: Ruth Everett.
John: Adam James.
Vashti: Thusitha Jayasundera.
Mrs Bracken: Tricia Kelly.
Olga/Gillian: Joan Kempson.
James: Henry Lloyd-Hughes.
Brian: Nicolas Tennant.
Lakshmi/Bindu: Harvey Virdi.
with: Hannah Banister, Nason Crone, Naomi Heffernan, Kevin Kamara.
Director: Nina Raine.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: Rick Fisher.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Video: Dick Straker.
Movement/Associate director: Jane Gibson.
Assistant director: Hannah Banister.