The Resuscitate Theatre Company could not have had a more appropriate opening night for Rounds, a show about the life and times of junior doctors. Less than an hour before the show started, ‘breaking news’ bulletins indicated that a deal had been reached, at least in principle, between the Government and the British Medical Association with regards to revised junior doctors’ contracts, after a long running dispute that included industrial action. The creative process for theatre plays taking as long as it does, Rounds does not mention strikes, placards or demonstrations: the play either deliberately chose not to take a stance on the new contracts dispute, or had otherwise been put together before things escalated.
A note in the programme mentions that junior doctors that the company spoke to in the process of making this play were “completely unaware of how much others respect them and support what they do”. Either that or they are better actors than actors themselves: the enduring popularity of television series such as BBC’s ‘Casualty’ and ‘Holby City’ and Channel 4’s ‘24 Hours in A&E’ stands testament to the continuing interest in what medics do, as does ABC Television’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, referenced in this play.
There are elements of ‘physical theatre’ in this production, and I thought those moments of activity weren’t quite frenetic and manic enough to properly depict just how busy and frenzied hospital environments are. They’re very nice to watch, for sure, but didn’t sit right with the rest of the play, portraying a highly pressurised career choice. A later scene in which a doctor working alone on a night shift being asked to attend to a serious deterioration in a patient’s condition one moment, and then to deal with an almost excruciatingly trivial matter the next, did better at representing the sort of expectations placed on doctors in training.
I wonder if the jokes and punchlines were taken verbatim from the actual junior doctors that were, ahem, consulted – they were never offensive, just unfunny, and after a while, downright cumbersome. Elsewhere, a sort-of love story was hopelessly clichéd. There seemed to be more ‘rounds’ oft elephone conversations between the Italian-born Dr Poretti (Davide Fox) and his friends and family back home than there were ‘rounds’ of assessing patients in hospital wards. Worst of all, a too-long scene involving one doctor feeding another doctor’s cat (don’t ask) came across to me as completely pointless and added nothing to the show, except perhaps to demonstrate that junior doctors have pathetic social lives on account of their combined work and study hours.
The key role of nurses in assisting doctors was highlighted well, albeit too briefly. Despite quite significantly losing its way in the middle, the play returns to the good quality it started with in a strong finish. It tries, I think, to be too many things at once, with so many scenes – in the shower, at work, at home, at someone else’s home. Some other plays, for instance, are set entirely in one room. In that sense, then, perhaps it is as chaotically busy as the life of a junior doctor is. As far as a piece of theatre is concerned, though, it doesn’t flow as well as it could. Perhaps it may have worked better with fewer characters, or covering a much shorter time span.
It is, however, a very ambitious piece of theatre, and hard-hitting when it wants to be. It is, however, ultimately uneven. There are, it is worth noting, some interesting insights into different coping strategies and responses to all that the necessarily rigorous training regime for doctors provides. What happens, for example – or what doesn’t happen – to Dr Jenkins (Adam Deane) seems to suggest the ‘old boy network’ is alive and well even in the NHS in this day and age. This play is to be commended for its realism: the gritty reality is, in the end, more riveting than the comparatively glamorous scenes seen on hospital television dramas.
Review by Chris Omaweng
18th & 19th May 7.15pm
A powerful and urgent tale of the first line of defence for the NHS. Resuscitate present a collection of funny and tragic true stories from inside the surgical mask. Follow the paths of six junior doctors as they struggle to balance the pressures of ward work against their personal lives.
Tamara Saffir – Dr Grace Collins
Penny Rodie – Dr Lucy Wright
Iain Gibbons – Dr Dominic Cavendish
Adam Deane – Dr Tom Jenkins
Davide Fox – Dr Giobee Poretti
Roxanne Browne – Dr Felicity Clarke
2nd May-28th May
New Wimbledon Studio
Tickets £10 (£8 concessions)
*See it again * £5 offer