The previous production on this stage, Roy Williams’ Wildfire, showed us an idealistic rookie, female officer being plunged into the Metropolitan Police Force. Now we see an idealistic rookie, female doctor being plunged into A&E at a London hospital. The Fire Brigade awaits. This play, written and directed by Nina Raine was first performed here almost four years ago. The rookie, Emily (Ruth Everett), who is told that she “cares too much”, needs to toughen up, whilst a more experienced doctor, Vashti (Indira Varma) is too abrasive and needs to soften up. If there are problems in the NHS as shown here, they are human ones at ground level; under-funding issues are left lurking in the background and political arguments are, mercifully, left out all together. Performed in the round, the blue linoleum stage floor with double swing doors on either side tells us instantly where we are supposed to be and what follows is a series of interlinked storylines – Emily’s teetering relationship with a fellow doctor (Luke Thompson), Vashti’s disputes with her uppity junior (Nick Hendrix) and her concerns over a beloved aunt in intensive care, a cardiologist (Alastair Mackenzie) with a worrying tumour, etc, etc. Raine writes about the hospital personnel and the culture that they generate collectively, pitching her play somewhere between the mundanity of Casualty and the heightened drama of ER; over-familiarity is her biggest problem and the structure – shortish scenes, jumping from one story to another is very much that used in countless television series. If she had really wanted to create a distinctive work for theatre, maybe she could have opted for a more narrowly focused intense drama or a bitingly satirical black comedy, but the only risk that she seems prepared to take is that of being dull and predictable. Nonetheless, Raine writes with pleasing clarity, her production flows briskly and all the performances are endearing. If you can tear yourself away from Holby City and the like, this is a moderately entertaining, if not very different, alternative.
Performance date: 17 December 2014