Hampstead Theatre January-February 2011; Winter 2014-2015
[The 2014 revival had a largely new cast.]
Nina Raine's new play looks at life in a big city hospital, where doctors and surgeons struggle to save lives while coping with internal politics, career issues, budget constraints, interfering regulations, physical exhaustion and the desire to maintain some sort of personal life.
It is fast moving,consistently interesting and occasionally insightful, and if you have never seen a single episode of Casualty, Holby City, MASH or Scrubs, it might even tell you something you don't know.
There's not much in the way of plot. We are invited to focus for a while on a young doctor who cares too much about each individual patient and has to learn to distance herself.
But there are also episodes about the fear every surgeon faces when beginning to cut, the need to work within the professional pecking order, the shifting of gears that comes when the patient is someone close to you or indeed you yourself, the dilemma of blowing the whistle on an incompetent superior, the pain of telling a popular patient there's nothing more you can do for him, and the seemingly irrelevant non-medical things (like personality clashes) that can affect a doctor's career.
One of the patients is an actor in a TV soap, and Tiger Country does sometimes feel like a whole season's worth of Holby City plot lines squeezed into two hours.
What saves it is the convincing authority of Nina Raine's writing. I happened to be sitting next to a doctor, who assured me in the interval that the characterisations were strikingly accurate and that the rivalry and mutual disdain between doctors and surgeons and the turf battles, black humour, casual racism and sexism, jockeying for advancement and self-protective shells of unfeeling coldness were all spot-on - and her recognition that the constant spectres of despair and burnout hover over every small triumph and defeat.
The production also benefits from the playwright-director's fluid and fast-moving choreography of scenes, hinting at the just-this-side-of-chaos speed of a hospital day while always keeping clear focus on the episode at hand.
Ruth Everett is sympathetic as the overwhelmed young doctor and Thusitha Jayasundera as a surgeon who feels more than the professional shell she has adopted first suggests.
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Tiger Country - Hampstead Theatre 2011