Casualty, Holby City, Doctors, Young Doctors, Flying Doctors...it seems that our capacity for medical melodrama is infinite. Nina Raines, award-winning writer of critically acclaimed plays including last year’s Tribes, adds to the canon with her latest play Tiger Country. Set in a London hospital which is more assembly line than medical centre, characters and set whizz on for short sharp scenes rarely taking more than ten minutes before whizzing off again to a snatch of random music as the audience on both sides of the room watch on.
Thusitha Jayasundera is the play’s amoral centre as the cold, calculating and arrogant surgeon Vashti who is desperate for promotion. Junior doctor Emily (Ruth Everett) is her mirror image: young and instinctual, she is seen as both passionate and compassionate as she juggles her doctor boyfriend and neverending line of patients. The star for us, though, was David Cann. He is alone amongst the cast in portraying multiple speaking roles including a consultant, an anaesthetist and a terminally ill patient. The closest we have to a British Leslie Nielsen, he is probably most famous as the surreal GP in Blue Jam; coincidentally, his own wife was a doctor who died from breast cancer.
Despite the jazzed-up stylings, the first half of Tiger Country moves too slowly. By the end of it, we were like a careless doctor losing our patience but the second half did well to tie the threads together (albeit in a predictable Hollywood fashion). The play’s faults are threefold: the cast is too large for us to feel much for any of them; the play is far too long at two hours plus interval; and, worst of all, there is very little in this production that is original beyond some interesting staging and a post-watershed script. Most damning of all, the characters are generally underwritten and with arcs older than Noah. We expected better writing from Ms Raines and left sorely disappointed. Given the scalpel, we would excise half the characters and a quarter of the running time, implant some genuine creativity and give a lift to the excellent Cann.
Tiger Country runs until 5 February. Tickets are £22-29 with concessions available. See here for more information.