Powerful Drama Puts NHS Under The Microscope
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
The National Health Service never seems to be out of the news headlines. Though still regarded as one of Britain’s great institutions, it struggles to deliver consistently to Britain's ageing population, while political parties argue about funding levels and management styles. Nina Raine’s well-deserved revival of her own play, first staged at the Hampstead Theatre in 2011, eschews national debates about policy in favour of internal power relations, focusing on what it's like for those coping with the day-to-day challenges of working in the overstretched NHS.
We follow a group of medics in a hectic general hospital making potentially life-or-death decisions against a background of inadequate resources, bureaucratic delays, racist and sexist attitudes, professional rivalry and personal conflict. There is a strong sense of how the routine and critical cases exist cheek by jowl, with ‘tiger country’ being a surgical reference to a dangerous place in the body to cut. The play makes clear how a certain amount of detachment is essential for doctors to do their job without becoming emotionally drained, though this can harden into a cynical dismissal of the patients' concerns.
Indira Varma gives a strong performance as a coldly overbearing registrar who reveals a new sensitivity after a family member’s operation goes wrong; while Nick Hendrix’s ambitious but frustrated senior house doctor complains about her bullying. Ruth Everett impresses as an idealistic newcomer forced to accept the limitations of what she can do for patients, as her relationship with her more pragmatic boyfriend Luke Thompson falls apart. Alastair Mackenzie gives a touching portrait of a cardiologist who may be able to save other people’s lives but not his own.
Raine has made a few updates to take into account changes in practice, and this thoroughly researched drama is far more convincing than the myriad overwrought TV soaps (a couple of which are nicely cross-referenced). Her crisp direction captures the fast-changing nature of emergency situations, as medics rush around and patients are wheeled on and off through two pairs of swing doors, though the Green Wing-style choreographed musical passages between scenes work less well. Lizzie Clachan’s fluid design allows the action to move from operating theatre to ward and staff canteen, with the audience sitting on two sides of the stage and feeling close to the blood, stress and drama.
By Neil Dowden
Tiger Country is on at the Hampstead Theatre until 17 January. Tickets are £22–£32. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 17 December 2014