Nina Raine's last play, Tribes, bowled me over and it was that which was the draw to the lovely Hampstead Theatre last Monday. That and the fact the Ought To Be Clowns had it on his 'looking forward to seeing' list.
Coming off the back of a lacklustre Twelfth Night at the Cottesloe last week I was ready for some energy and that I certainly got.
The play is set in a hospital and the opening scene was almost like watching an episode of Casualty (I imagine, I haven't watched it for a long while) with an operation being performed and patients having tubes stuck in them.
I'm a little squeamish so I was relieved when that bit was over and no that isn't why this play should have a health warning although those theatre-goers with a more delicate constitutions might want to take note. But more of that later.
Tiger Country has what in these times of budget cuts seems like an extravagant cast of 11. The principal characters are doctors of varying degrees of seniority each with their own story thread. There is Emily (Ruth Everett) who is a new SHO (I had to look it up, it means Senior House Officer but essentially is a trainee doctor) with good instincts but gets too emotionally involved.
John (Adam James) is a consultant who has health problems of his own which he is trying to ignore and Mark (Pip Carter) is an ambitious trainee surgeon who feels his supervisor Vashti (Thusitha Jayasundera) is holding him back. Vashti herself gets a dose of being on the other side of the fence when a relative comes to the hospital for a routine operation.
There is much to like and enjoy about Tiger Country. The pace skips along in the main giving extra meaning to those moments when the story dwells on the key characters and their personal struggles.
In fact the narrative threads interweave so expertly that there is never a dull moment. Scans and footage from actual operations are projected up on the walls at appropriate moments which is a nice device for adding a dose of realism and drama. And there are nurses stations at the far sides of the stage where there is often a character or two at the computer or having a gossip over a cuppa.
Whether Raine intends to shock us by exposing the perceived reality of life working in an NHS hospital, I'm not sure. I wasn't shocked. Indeed half way through the second half I just wanted the over-caring Emily to either quit or stop agonising about it.
The danger in having so many characters is that you don't really get under the skin of any one individual and it can feel like a bit of a broad brush approach to characterisation but in this instance the narratives were interesting enough to be engaging and well done.
So why should it carry a health warning? Well, in what is a first since the Ben Whishaw-watch maiming incident, I sustained an injury while in the theatre. Stepping down from the stage to my front row seat for the second half, I slipped on PolyG's copy of Much Ado About Nothing (the manga version) and very painfully twisted my ankle. And no I'm not making it up. I was on Ibuprofen for 36 hours.
There is heavy dose of irony and a lesson in there somewhere but I'm not letting it cloud my judgement, even if the lovely Dr Adam James didn't rush to examine me.
Other reviews are only just starting to trickle in - The Times gives it four stars - and from me it also gets four stars.
An easy-peasy one, the aforementioned lovely Adam James was in The Pride over in New York with Mr W. And his is probably the least legible autograph on my Pride playbill but I won't hold that against him, he makes for a very attractive doctor after all.