Tiger Country at the HampsteadCultureTheatre
Three years after its sell-out debut, award-winning playwright Nina Raine’s Tiger Country is making a triumphant return to the stage. In an open theatre space, Raine weaves for us an engaging tale centred around a group of doctors in a busy A&E ward, splicing the chaos and drama of their work and personal lives.
Our two main guides to this messy world are the aloof and ambitious surgeon Vashti (Indira Varma) and idealistic newcomer Emily (Ruth Everett) on her first stint in A&E. Over the course of the play we watch them struggle with balancing their personal and professional lives – Vashti when a family member struggles with illness, and Emily with her waning optimism and her flirty doctor boyfriend James (Luke Thompson). Both women must also struggle with the day-to-day sexism that comes with working in such a male-dominated field, both struggling for respect while their colleagues belittle them.
The set is simple: an empty room with gurneys, beds and wheelchairs rolled on and off as needed. Medical scans, heart monitors and surgical procedures are projected across the walls to great effect and the transitions between scenes are fast-paced helping to cement the hectic feeling working in a hospital must bring. The use of music, too, is particularly poignant at times, with a soundtrack that varies from Disney songs to pop and more traditional South-East Asian music. Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy playing while Vashti operates is particularly moving.
Performances are strong across the whole cast, with Alastair Mackenzie as John, a doctor who suffers his own health scare, Nick Hendrix as Mark, who spends much of the play griping about Vashti, and Luke Thompson as James, Emily’s boyfriend, whose coping mechanisms begin to grate on her. Even the more minor characters are varied and fleshed-out, from the feisty Rebecca (Wunmi Mosaku) to the level-headed Brian (Shaun Parkes).
Though Emily’s unflinching optimism and some of John’s philosophical spiels feel a little less natural and can be hard to swallow, the play is nonetheless a resounding success. You may not leave with a renewed faith in the NHS or the people we put our trust in to heal us, but you’ll certainly gain a small insight what it’s like for them. Tiger Country shows them for who they really are: people.
Tiger Country is on at Hampstead Theatre until 17th January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.