Review: Patient is a Verb, Camden People’s Theatre

Burning Attic’s Patient is a Verb takes a fascinating route to dramatising trans people’s experiences of healthcare in the UK at Camden People’s Theatre

“Playing in non-binary mode is not advised”

One of the things that is most striking about the trans discourse that has a tendency to pop up now and again in the media is that it too rarely – and also shows little interest in – platforming actual trans voices – just witness the Graham Norton’s treatment after suggesting the same just a few months back. So even the notion of a show “drawing on lived experiences of interviewed participants and an all-trans team” feels like a refreshing corrective to at least some of that.

Burning Attic’s Patient is a Verb is a theatrical response to the realities for trans people trying their best to navigate the healthcare system in the UK when there is a five year waiting list to the Gender Identity Clinic. Taking the form of a retro video role-playing game, a grim but determined sense of humour takes us through multiple levels of gatekeeping, administrative hell and endless medical establishments as our gameplayer tries their best to get through to the ‘end’.

It is a clever conceptualisation of the overall theme and allows for the incorporation of so many its different aspects. Contrasting player experiences (our protagonist here has two helper pals), message boards full of questions and answers about the ‘game’, and cheat codes and hacks to get past particularly tricky obstacles like mean receptionists. With so much research to hand, it is a canny way to successfully integrate much of this raw material in a non-verbatim manner.

A coda does see the show fall slightly at the last. After what feels like a natural end, an awkwardly structured sequence lays things a bit too bare, the previous subtleties turned to an inelegant directness that doesn’t quite feel needed. Florian Lim’s direction has moments of brilliantly observed details – the videogame characters bouncing whilst being announcedis genius – and with further development, this devised show has the makings of something special.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Patient is a Verb is booking at the Camden People’s Theatre until 15th December

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