“Try not to care so much”
Whilst other people wind down for the end of the year, Nina Raine is certainly keeping busy as her self-penned and self-directed Tiger Country returns to Hampstead Theatre, in advance of Donkey Heart – written by her brother Moses and also directed by her – transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in the New Year. Declared one of Hampstead’s most popular commissions, I must confess to being a little surprised to see this 2011 play return as it didn’t stick out as particularly memorable but with the promise of a new cast, I was interested to see how it stacked up nearly four years later.
And it seems that some time away has done it some good – the play feels cleaner, sharper and less encumbered with expository dialogue clearing a path through the medical terminology. I don’t know how much the script has been updated or edited but its spin through the state of the modern NHS feels as keenly observed as ever, visiting the stresses it imposes on those who work within it as well as those who use its services. Raine’s production recaptures the frenetic energy of a hospital and its staff at full stretch – metaphorically, physically, emotionally.
The new cast have been astutely chosen. Indira Varma brings a wondrous hauteur to surgeon Vashti who is gradually brought to earth by circumstance, humanised beautifully in the most recognisable of ways; Alistair Mackenzie’s registrar skilfully balances professional conduct with personal concern; and Luke Thompson and Nick Hendrix contrast well as young upstarts determined to rise through the ranks. Ruth Everett returns to the role of idealistic Emily through whose eyes we see something – an increasing pragmatism if not disillusionment – of the whole journey.
The design of Lizzie Clachan’s traverse set allows for much playfulness, not least in Neil Austin’s video and Leon Baugh’s choreography, and the overall impact coheres well. It was interesting to read back my review from last time round for in truth, not a huge amount of how I felt had remained in my memory (one of the more useful aspects of having such a comprehensive blog). And it would suggest that Tiger Country has aged well, maturing into a more effective piece of theatre (or perhaps, unlikely as it seems, it is I that has matured…!).