The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution at the Finborough Theatre
In a repressed family where the torturer father brings his work home, and the mother cannot hear the screams because she takes sleeping pills, it is the daughter, driven to deranged madness, who speaks the most truth.
It takes a lot to forge a career as a playwright these days, and more to make a name for yourself. Caryl Churchill has become one of that rare band of known playwrights whose work continues beyond the first run. So many plays are produced once, never to see the light of a theatre again, and yet Churchill’s works continue to be produced, reinterpreted, and transcribed across formats.
Written in 1972, it has taken until now for The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution to have its world premiere at the Finborough. Why now, you may ask, and is this more than a time-piece showing vanished attitudes? Sadly, issues of torture, incarceration and moral ambiguity are always relevant, and Churchill offers insight rather than shock value. In fact, although a play about a psychiatric hospital treating the fallouts of political upheaval doesn’t sound much fun, it’s actually enjoyable and funny due to the intelligence of the writing. It’s not exactly comedy to hear a torturer complaining about his lot and wishing the prisoners would make it easier for him, but there is grim humour throughout, as characters reveal their attitudes and waver on the edge of the thin line between personal sanity and an insane world.
The cast delivers a succession of scenes set in the hospital with commitment: a frighteningly reasonable doctor convinces himself that collaborating with the police interrogations would probably be for the prisoners’ own good; the level of self-absorption of a paranoid patient becomes hilarious as events threaten to take the spotlight from his own inner drama.
There is a real-life back story to the play in the setting of Algeria and the revolution of the native population against their French colonial government in the 1950s and 60s. The casual racism and breathtakingly patronising attitudes towards the Algerians could be transcribed to any other oppressive situation. People throughout time find themselves caught up in compromising situations, and as such this play allows all sides, torturer and terrorist, to have their say.
The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution is at the Finborough Theatre until 16th April 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.