Ravenscourt (Hampstead Theatre Downstairs)

Posted: October 4, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Robert Day

Writer: Georgina Burns

Director: Tessa Walker 


The problems of the National Health Service are rarely out of the headlines, so perhaps a drama about them can only expand on what most of us already know. Georgina Burns’ new one act play, Ravenscourt, sets out to dig beneath the news stories and investigate the reality, specifically in relation to mental health services. The play achieves stretches of intense drama, but covers over-familiar themes and frequently gets bogged down in its own worthy intentions.

The setting is the out patients wing attached to Ravenscourt, a psychiatric hospital. Lydia (Lizzy Watts) has been recruited from the private sector to work as a therapist alongside the unit manager, Denise (Andrea Hall) and Arthur (Jon Foster), both seasoned professionals who have learned how to combine compassion with cynicism. Lydia is full of enthusiasm and eager to make a difference, but she quickly grows to understand the scale of the challenges facing her.

Denise and Arthur have all but given up on Daniel, a “revolving door” patent who keeps being referred back for further sessions of therapy, so they decide that Lydia should take him on. The 33-year-old patient suffers from acute depression with bursts of anger and he has mother issues. Josef Davies’ performance as a man overpowered by controlled and uncontrolled rage, is the spark which ignites director Tessa Walker’s sometimes pedestrian production. The tormented Daniel is a compelling case study, finely drawn by both writer and actor, and the play leaves us wanting to know more about him than is possible when the main focus is on the provision of services to help him.

Debbie Duru’s simple but effective design adapts cleverly for set changes. Burns touches on some big issues, questioning the boundaries of ethical conduct as well as highlighting the shortcomings of a system which we should all know is under-funded and under-staffed. Her writing has admirable clarity, but little flair. with the result that her drama informs more consistently than it entertains.

Overall, the play’s impact is patchy. Its 90-minute running time breaks into three roughly equal parts: an unremarkable opening sets the scene and establishes characters; an intense middle section, focussing on the troubled patient, contains real meat; and a final section, turning to the tolls which their jobs take on professionals, feels like an anticlimax after what had been seen immediately before and it simply goes on for too long.

Performance date: 3 October 2022

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