Home » London Theatre Reviews » Ravenscourt by Georgina Burns at Hampstead Theatre

Ravenscourt by Georgina Burns at Hampstead Theatre

Debuting her first full-length play, Georgina Burns’ Ravenscourt shows her tremendous promise as a writer. Hampstead’s Associate Director Tessa Walker brings great skill to the production – keeping its pace tight and overseeing exemplary production values that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a studio space staging of a writer who has only recently graduated from the theatre’s emerging writers programme, INSPIRE (which is led by big-hitting playwright Roy Williams, whose latest work, The Fellowship, recently appeared on the Hampstead’s main stage to mixed reviews).

Ravenscourt by Georgina Burns
Ravenscourt by Georgina Burns.

Walker has assembled a fine cast with the stand-out performance belonging to Josef Davies as Daniel, a ‘tricky’ case for the team of NHS psychotherapists who attempt to treat his chronic depression with a mere seven sessions of talking therapy. Burns has given the unemployed working-class 33-year-old man, who still lives with his equally troubled mother, the weightiest material – with barbs about the undeniable intersections of social inequality and scarce support as well a vivid first-person telling of the all-consuming struggle of mental illness and emotional anguish. Davies rises to the oratory’s potential with a searing, authentic and muscular enactment that offers a cathartic gut-punch without veering into the blatantly polemic. Jon Foster, the other male character of this four-hander, also shines as Arthur – a veteran NHS practitioner who presents no illusions about ‘cures’ or ‘redemption’ but, as we learn, gets on with the job with compassion and dignity not first seen by idealistic, and somewhat arrogant, newcomer Lydia (Lizzy Watts). The quartet of shrinks is completed by Andrea Hall who plays Denise, the supervisor running the workplace (a literal and metaphorical madhouse of types) with equanimity. Denise serves as a reminder of what is realistic but not perfect and the toll clinicians experience even with the most robust of boundaries.

As a starting showcase, Burns’ work is strong. However, as a full-fledged play, it hasn’t quite decided what it wants to be nor pushed the boundaries of its potential. Although Lydia, who recently arrived from private practice and determined to give her all to her patients, is the central character (and one suspects possibly a semi-autobiographical foil for the playwright who retrained as an NHS therapist after a career in other fields) she is the least developed role. Countertransference and her mother issues are hinted at but never really explored – leaving their dramatic value on the table, unexploited. In parts, Ravenscourt feels like a professional coming-of-age story – in which idealism crashes into pragmatism – but the script still doesn’t find the outer limits of embarrassment and redemption nor the humour such a tale needs (even though it does have some satisfyingly pithy and witty lines). I was occasionally reminded of the TV adaptation of Adam Kay’s NHS memoir This is Going to Hurt – but without as much dramatic or comic intensity. The play offered a few hints that Georgina Burns had something more to say about human connection through the relationship between Lydia and Daniel; how were they both transformed by their interactions? But the darkness of Lydia’s psyche remained only vaguely dusky for a few moments and then was put back in its box. I can’t help but wonder if it was her INSPIRE programme mentor Roy Williams who encouraged a tidy plot with no loose ends at the expense of a more theatrical exploration of the messy elements of the mind. Nonetheless, Burns’ ear for dialogue is strong and the play does not drag. Ravenscourt is a very strong start from a promising writer underpinned by expert direction and some impressive performances. I am eager to see what she writes next.

3 Star Review

Review by Mary Beer

Idealistic and driven, Lydia is a mental-health professional determined to make a difference. She has given up her comfortable job in private practice to become a therapist at Ravenscourt – where society’s most in need can receive treatment. And making progress in treating Daniel – an angry and depressed young man who everybody else has written off – feels genuinely worthwhile. But as Lydia settles into the job, she starts to realise how high the odds are stacked against her being able to really change things for Daniel. Maybe the cynics are right: the system is broken and nobody cares…

ARTISTIC TEAM
WRITER GEORGINA BURNS
DIRECTOR TESSA WALKER
DESIGNER DEBBIE DURU
LIGHTING MATT HASKINS
SOUND ANNA SHORT
FIGHT PHILIP D’ORLÉANS
MOVEMENT REBECCA WIELD
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR SAM EDMUNDS

CAST
DANIEL – JOSEF DAVIES
ARTHUR – JON FOSTER
DENISE – ANDREA HALL
LYDIA – LIZZY WATTS

HAMPSTEAD DOWNSTAIRS / CELIA ATKIN PRESENT
RAVENSCOURT
BY GEORGINA BURNS
DIRECTED BY TESSA WALKER

23 SEP – 29 OCT 2022
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

Related News & Reviews Past & Present

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

    View all posts
Scroll to Top