Writer: Joe Penhall
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Mary Tapper
The Public Reviews Rating:
In 2011 Ambassador Theatre Group set up Theatre Royal Brighton Productions, with Christopher Luscombe at the helm, director of numerous productions including The Madness of King George III, The Rocky Horror Show and Spamalot to name but a few. Its aim was to produce three plays in 2012, each beginning life in Brighton before touring the UK and ending in the West End. The first play was the popular Dandy Dick and here we have the company’s second offering, an excellent piece of drama covering more controversial ground that won numerous awards on its debut in 2000.
So what is this play about? On the surface it is a discussion between three men, one a black man who is coming to the end of his 28-day sectioning in a mental institution, one the psychiatrist in charge of his case and the last the senior consultant in charge of the department. There is conflict between the two doctors as to whether or not the man should be released back into the community or sectioned while a further diagnosis of schizophrenia is considered. And here the play begins to cover all sorts of ground: we touch on the benefits of care in the community, the lack of funding and beds in mental wards, the politics and power games within hospitals and last but not least if the diagnosis of the patient has been influenced by the fact that he is black. In a fascinating debate our sympathies sway wildly and, just as we think a position may be becoming clear, the waters are muddied again. We are shown first hand how context is everything and how comments and actions can be seen in different lights.
All three actors are excellent and add to the sharp, biting performance we see. The highlight is, without doubt, Robert Bathurst’s comic portrayal of the ambitious consultant: with easy charm and great comic timing he is a real tour de force and even the way he walks and stands help present a perfectly choreographed, polished performance.
Oliver Wilson is excellent as the patient Christopher and Gerald McCarthy does a fine job as the ever more desperate junior doctor, confused and bewildered by the turn of events. The set is suitably institutional with Perspex and shades of white and blue used to create a corridor-like set and a huge black backdrop behind to add to the sense of menace. Lighting and sound are both good and with swift scene changes the production is slick and highly professional.
It is easy to see why this play won many awards on its debut at the National Theatre. It asks awkward questions of us all as we watch. It is neither patronising nor simplistic and, in exploring the whole world that surrounds a mental health patient – the power struggles, the debates, the different ideologies held by the experts, it raises more questions than it answers.
Ultimately this is a play for those who like their drama to be challenging and thought provoking. An entertaining and well-crafted look at issues that morphs from comedy in the first act to a deeper darker play in the second it is satisfying and well paced. It is a pleasure to see a quality production of a play like this touring and it makes a fine complement to the farces and more cosy productions we are used to. First class.
Runs until 29th September