We were very impressed with Nina Raine's TRIBES at the Royal Court this past fall. She's a writer with a sure sense of theatre and an ear for sharp dialogue. So we were curious and excited about her new play, TIGER COuNTRY, now at the Hampstead Theatre. Raine studied directing as well as playwriting. This is her production of her work.
TIGER COUNTRY is about doctors in a large city hospital. Sound familiar? Can one write a play on this subject without echoing ER, GRAY'S ANATOMY and their UK brethren HOLBY CITY and CASUALTY? The answer is not totally. The fast moving play that cuts back and forth between short scenes seems at times like a television drama, particularly in the romantic, or should I say sexual, moments. The doctors are all heterosexual, of course. The young male doctors are all handsome, the young females attractive. I'm sure there are homely doctors as well as gay doctors. However, Raine has a particular focus, the balance of dedication and cynicism necessary for a person to survive as a doctor. Her central charater, Emily, is a young emergency room doctor who taes a rather sentimental attitude toward her work while her colleagues are more hard-hearted. She almost implodes when a young woman who has had a heart attack dies. In her eyes, all her colleagues were heartless and uncaring while they were merely being realistic. The patient was dead on arrival and nothing would have saved her. Emily's attempts at resuscitation were wasting time and money. There were moments when I wanted to slap her but fortunately she grows up. Emily is surrounded by colleagues her age and senior. A female Indian surgeon realizes that she is giving up too much to be one of the blokes (necessary in her profession). She sacrifices her femininity and her ethnic identity -- the blokes are white. One becomes aware of the rigid hierarchy of a medical center and the cost of defying the chain of command even when it is necessary.
All Raines's characters are sharply drawn and her dialogue is lively. So, despite the moments that verged on cliche, the play was enjoyable and somewhat thought provoking. Her production was flawless. The Hampstead was turned into a transverse stage with the audience seated on two sides of an open playing area. Beds, gurneys and operating tables were wheeled in and out with choreographic precision and grace. Walls are filled with projections of x-rays and scans. Her 15 member cast was top notch featuring some of Britain's best actors, familiar both from stage and television. Standouts were Thusitha Jayasundera and Adam James. Jayasundera plays the senior female physician who realizes she doesn't fit in any more when she can do nothing for her aunt who is seriously ill thanks to a botched surgery by a senior specialist. To remain one of the blokes, the doctor can not complain or move her aunt to another hospital. James is a forty-something doctor who is forced to become a patient. The younger members of the cast are also fine, particularly Pip Carter as the rebellious resident.
TIGER COUNTRY is not as rich as Raines's TRIBES, but a thoroughly enjoyable play that reinforces all one's reservations about hospitals. Having once been on the receiving end of medical imcompetence, I am always skeptical of hospital care.
TIGER COUNTRY, written and directed by Nina Raine. Hampstead Theatre. January 22, 2011.