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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Theatre - Tiger Country - Hampstead Theatre

Star rating – 8/10

Imagine a really good hospital drama – so we are talking more like vintage ER than Holby City or Casualty – put all that frenetic activity on a London stage, and you have roughly got Nina Raine’s new play ‘Tiger Country’. But at the time of the most radical shake up of our health services since they were created, this is not really a political play, except for the internal politics of any large hospital. In fact it could really be about any organisation, anywhere, with tales of personal relationships at work; bureaucracy, hierarchies and the very poor work life balance of some of the more committed staff.

And Raine has certainly done her homework. She spent three months inside NHS hospitals as research, and it shows in the meticulous details of the production which have a genuine air of authenticity about them. With her twin roles as writer and also director of this piece, she has got the frenzied pace of the activity which goes on inside a hospital off to a tee.

There are a few story lines going on throughout the play, in amongst the cameos of patients passing through the busy A&E department of a London hospital, and the staff who do their best to care for them. One is about a senior doctor who is trying to shake off her extremely rough edges and to try to care a little more about both patients and colleagues; and the other is of a new junior staff member who needs to try to distance herself from her work a little more and care a little less, for the sake of her health and sanity. Thusitha Jayasundera is excellent as the first character, Vashti, the tough Indian doctor whose harsh exterior hides a lot more going on underneath. And the latter Emily is played, again very adeptly, by Ruth Everett. Ironically, neither women are particularly liked by their colleagues, who prefer team players who don’t stand out from the crowd in either a positive or negative manner.

The play involves a very large cast, and an even larger array of props, both used very effectively with precision timing. The set design is also clever, making use of projected images of inside an operation, and of x-rays to get the audience close up to the action. It moves along very quickly, is very engaging, well observed, and a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the title of the play refers when a surgeon has to stick a knife into a patient really close to their artery – then they are in Tiger Country.

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