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.
By Hatty Uwanogho