Rounds by Resuscitate Theatre at the Blue Elephant Theatre

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On arrival at the lovely Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, we receive with the programme a leaflet from the Doctors’ Support Network, which provides support to young doctors. The words ‘eating disorder’, ‘stress’, ‘depression’, ‘psychosis’ and ‘bipolar disorder’ are emblazoned on the front of it. We know we are not about to witness another episode of Carry on Doctor.

Rounds is relevant and moving theatre at a time of desperate crisis in the NHS. It has been devised by the ensemble at Resuscitate Theatre after conversations with junior doctors and members of the medical profession, and was coincidentally first being developed at the time when the junior doctors were first striking in 2016.

It follows a group of junior doctors on their first days and weeks on the job. A major point highlighted by the play is the way young people who have just graduated from college are asked to make decisions on a daily basis which might literally be a matter of life or death. Add to this the fact that they are still learning the myriad facts about diseases and their diagnoses, they are battling with sexist and racist attitudes on the hospital floor, and they are navigating love and life (and even how to find the way round the hospital), and it’s no wonder that they need to find ways to deal with stress. Dr Clarke (Christina Carty) drinks too much and Dr Wright (Penelope Rodie) finds herself slipping back to an anxious state of mental health which she has previously known as a student.

It is one thing, studying medicine. As one of the lines goes, putting it into practice is an entirely different matter. The studying continues on the job, yet with severe consequences for every decision. We see the reality of this when Dr Jenkins (Adam Deane) forgets to write down a dosage that he has given a critically ill patient. It comes close to killing somebody and, as the arrogant, privileged white male from public school, he gets a slap on the wrist and his first choice at his next placement, his only reaction being, “She didn’t die, did she?”. The opposite is true when Dr Lucy Wright is punished for her insecurity and mental instability by the unseen voices of authority, and is signed off work entirely.

There is a mixture of physical movement and short, spoken scenes between the characters. We see a lot of rhythmic hand-washing, there is a dance with x-rays, and there is a nice scene which starts out as a practice role play between doctor and patient, and ends up as quite a tender dance between the two doctors who develop a relationship with each other, Dr Grace Collins (Alex Hinson) and Dr Cavendish (Iain Gibbons). They use some green hospital curtains on wheels as the main props, which work both as hospital curtains, windows, and partitions of the separate lives.

There is some lovely comedy from Iain Gibbons. His character is a shy but lovable geek, and when he goes to Grace’s flat to look after the cat, the scene with the cat-cam is sweet and funny.

My main criticism is that I wanted more! I wanted to know more about the characters and see what happened next on their journey. There is just a brief conversation about a patient asking not to be treated by Dr Sharma (Nicolas Pimpare) due to his race, but apart from knowing that he is a studious student and good doctor there is not much more to his character. I also feel that we are left hanging at the end. Maybe I didn’t see the end coming because I was totally gripped by the drama.

The doctors in Rounds face struggles which are not only human and recognisable, but also terrifyingly serious. At this time in our history, when the ethos of the NHS is at risk and its professionals are stressed and overworked, it is important to remember that they are only human, and they are going the extra mile for our sakes, every day.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

One Was Nude And One Wore Tails by Dario Fo at the Hen and Chickens

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It is rare indeed to see One Was Nude and One Wore Tails performed in London. It is one of Dario Fo’s one act farces, first performed in Italy in 1962. Far from Fo’s Milan, the Theatre of Heaven and Hell, which is currently reviving the play, ‘was created in a living room in Southend on Sea’ and their mission is to bring absurdist theatre to London’s fringe.

As we walk in to take our seats, there is an accordion player playing without much accomplishment on the set strewn with crumpled balls of newspaper. Five cast members enter dressed as roadsweepers in bright high visibility overalls and give us a comic rendition of a song, complete with bicycle horns for percussion. It feels like a vaudeville show from past days; Benny Hill springs to mind. Two of the roadsweepers return to the stage, frustratingly sweeping things around rather than sweeping anything away. One of them (Nicholas Bright) is a bit of a simpleton and the other one (Brian Eastty) gives him a lesson in philosophy and life, which ends up with our first roadsweeper (let’s call him Roadsweeper 1) believing that he is God.

From this deep discussion we end up in the middle of a farce based around Roadsweeper 1’s initial need, to find his bin, and his second need, to find some clothes for the naked man who he finds in his bin.

This main section of the farce is by far the funniest and most successful. Nicholas Bright goes from being a lovable Frank Spencer-esque fool to an endearing character who is not as foolish as he looks. This is an important theme for Fo, which is also reiterated when Roadsweeper 1 swaps clothes with a flower seller who is passing by on a bicycle and who is wearing a dinner suit. It is in fact the man inside the bin who is the ambassador, and he is hiding in there naked having run away from a dalliance with a married woman. People are not always what they seem by their appearance. This play brings out such themes with laughter and satire.

The highlight of the entire piece is the naked ambassador in the bin. Played by Darren Ruston, the Naked Man does some brilliant acting from within that bright yellow bin. There are some great visual gags, some knockabout humour, japes with the bike horn, and general slapstick involving the lid of the bin. Ruston delivers his lines beautifully, whilst being mostly imprisoned within the bin, his bald head (and comedy moustache) the only things visible. The direction by Michael Ward gets this really right. Bright’s performance also works really well with Ruston’s; as Roadsweeper 1 puts on the dinner suit and tails and becomes a make-believe Count he is comically exuberant. The Woman (Elena Clements) is a slight role which helps the action to move along, but it is done well. As she sits on the bench next to our hapless Roadsweeper 1 at the end of the play, a hint of romance in the air between these two simple folk, she reflects it was ‘All because I met a naked ambassador’.

Fo is the Nobel prize-winning playwright who died last year, more famous for his longer form plays The Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! It seems like a good time to see his lesser-known work, particularly if it is going to be of this high calibre.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

One Last Thing (For Now) by Althea Theatre Company at the Old Red Lion Theatre

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There are some great moments in One Last Thing (For Now) by Althea Theatre Company and I could feel the passion of the ensemble, but I would have enjoyed an edited, less messy version far more.

The play is written and directed by Lilac Yosiphon (with the cast) and based on love letters written at times of war, different wars in different eras. The cast members play a variety of roles, some with greater success than others. The stories overlap throughout and bring out themes such as how we speak in war time, what we hide, how the person who is not at war but at home cannot fully comprehend the situation for the other person. There are unusual situations, even a thread about a woman who wishes to send her touch to her husband, and decides that she needs to cut off her hand and traverse the world to give her touch to him herself.

The story which centres on a military school in Israel is very moving, and the teacher who did not go to war is played convincingly by Josephine Arden. I felt that this could have been expanded into a fuller story on its own as it is very poignant and brought tears to my eyes.

I enjoyed Arden in her other roles too, including the modern story of skyping her partner who is away in Afghanistan (another tear-jerker). My other favourite was Elizabeth Stretton (she does a great dog!) and she stole the scenes she was in.

The ensemble work is good, for instance when the group speaks out the punctuation and kisses in a series of texts, and their formation together is really nice at times, but at others the space feels too cramped and it would have been nice if some of them had left the stage at times too.

I also liked the performances by Cole Michaels, who reminded me of a young Christopher Eccleston. His Russian sounded so perfect I felt he must be Russian himself (he’s from Sheffield) and again the story about him not being able to tell a woman that her husband has died, and pretending to be him himself, is another touching one. The cast is truly European and they use untranslated French, Spanish and Russian. Understanding the first two languages, I felt that some of it did need to be translated, as it gave an added dimension that many people would miss.

There is almost too much content to squeeze into one play here. I do admire Yosiphon for the project and there are some important and moving points made here. However I believe that focusing on fewer stories, with fewer characters, and condensing into one act, would improve the flow and the experience for the audience.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Swifties by Tom Stenton at Theatre N16

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I tend to stick to the philosophy that if you can’t say nice about something, you shouldn’t say anything at all. But that would make for a very short review.

Swifties is supposed to be about the relationship between celebrities and their fans, and centres on two young women who appear to love the singer Taylor Swift. An overlong first section of the play sees them re-enacting a role play, with one of them playing Taylor Swift, or ‘Tay’, and the other one of them playing her submissive fan Nina. Confusingly, the girl playing Taylor Swift is actually called Nina, and her ‘friend’ is Yasmin although their relationship is far from warm. The two girls’ obsession with Taylor Swift veers between the adoring and the murderous, the love and the hatred.

Then the role play stops, the lights change, and they turn into their real selves. In their real life Nina (Tanya Cubric) and Yasmin (Isabella Niloufar) have escaped their depressing life back home in Luton through winning a competition, and are in a hotel room about to meet their idol, Swift herself. The plot line of how Nina manages to sabotage this meeting is wrapped up in a fabricated rape allegation involving music producer Calvin Harris (Swift’s ex-boyfriend). Once Swift’s team has found out that Nina is behind the lie, the meeting between them is cancelled, which causes the situation to degenerate.

Swifties is loosely based on the Jean Genet play The Maids, wherein two maids act out sado-masochistic role plays around murdering their mistress. Using The Maids as inspiration is an interesting element, but the link is tenuous and needn’t be there. For me, the narrative does not make sense, the characters are highly annoying in the way they seem to keep switching personality, and the dialogue makes me cringe, including their irritating, babyish, bad American accents (even if they are supposed to be like that). I can’t even write the name Nina without shuddering, it is so overused, and so whiny.

The two actors give it all they have but the play by Tom Stenton does not give them consistent material to work with. It is a pity as a few interesting ideas are touched on, but they are not developed coherently: celebrities like Swift might appear to be philanthropic to their fans, yet it only serves to increase the star’s social media following and their popularity, and further widens the chasm between the star and the fan. As an audience I think we felt there was a chasm between us and Swifties.

The best bit is the end, and I don’t mean that facetiously. Isabella Niloufar takes the hand of an audience member in the front row and poignantly sings a Swift song called The Outside, looking right at her. If only we’d had more moments like this.

WIGS 1/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Boy Stroke Girl by Ian Dixon Potter at the Etcetera Theatre

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Boy Stroke Girl starts a little nervously. It might be that it is opening night at the Etcetera Theatre, or that we are a small audience. But as it warms up, it becomes a play which really gets me thinking, and has kept me thinking ever since.

Two people meet, begin to chat, they have interests in common (namely, Dr Who) and there is an instant attraction. Yet Peter (Gianbruno Spena) comes away from the first encounter unsure if he has just met – and made a date with – a male or a female. Blue (Ilaria Ciardelli) will not be defined by Blue’s gender or any form of labelling, and deliberately chooses an androgynous look and name (even choosing a pronoun is difficult in English when you don’t know their gender). Peter and Blue carry on seeing each other, but not getting intimate, at Blue’s insistence, and the play builds nicely towards the climax which (like Blue’s gender) I will not disclose here.

In Boy Stroke Girl, both written and directed by Ian Dixon Potter, we examine the situation through not just Peter’s journey – can he fall for Blue as a person, irrespective of gender and genitalia? – but also through the reactions of his friends and family. In this way we examine our own reactions. My initial feelings of frustration with Blue, and Blue’s persistence with the idea that nobody should know the truth about their gender, turns gradually to indignation that anybody else should question it. As Blue says, labelling somebody is just being lazy, each person is unique, and ought to have their own thoughts, not just copy the next person’s prejudices.

There are many ideas in the play about identity, being yourself, not limiting yourself to how you have been defined, and not pandering to society’s expectations. The love story is a clever, sometimes too intellectual, way to really get you to question your own beliefs about some essential truths. The sexual part brings in another layer, for what if Blue does turn out to be a boy, does that make Peter gay? Or bi? The cast and creative team play it just right. Blue is played intriguingly well by Ciardelli, and the other three members of the cast provide great support. I particularly enjoyed the swift change in hairstyle that changed Peter’s friend Ron (Duncan Mason) into Peter’s Dad, and Thomasin Lockwood is strong in all three of her roles.

Boy Stroke Girl sounds quite deep, and on the theme of gender and self-knowledge and sexual freedom it is. However it has a nice lightness too, which brings the intellectual conversations back down to earth, for example this line from Peter’s friend Sara: “What if he/she turns out to have a penis?” and from his mother on learning that he doesn’t know whether Blue is a boy or a girl: “What, it didn’t come up in conversation?”

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho