Tiger Country at Hampstead Theatre online
Joining forces with other theatres across the UK, Hampstead Theatre – as part of their Hampstead Theatre At Home series – is presenting one of their currently most relevant performances for free on YouTube: Nina Raine’s Tiger Country, a numbing and shocking slice-of-life piece documenting the horrendous situation at an NHS hospital. With meticulous research, strong writing and a stellar cast, this isn’t just a timely play, but an extremely profound, horrifying piece of documentary theatre.
The plot is centred around two characters who at first seem to be rather stereotypical, but throughout the runtime, they are quickly fleshed out to become realistic representations of real-life doctors. Vashti (Indira Varma), a tough medical veteran who has seen and done it all, becomes personally involved when her aunt falls ill and gradually loses the rock-solid grip she usually has on her job. Emily (Ruth Everett) is quite the opposite: an idealistic newcomer who has just started to further her career and to be nearer her boyfriend James (Luke Thompson), she quickly feels the disenchantment of reality after failing to save the life of a 25-year-old woman.
Nina Raine’s production – first introduced in 2011, then recreated in this 2014 revival – features a realistic set design by Lizzie Clachan with strong use of light and shadow by Neil Austin, creating a sturdy atmosphere matching the horrors of what is seen on stage. It also serves to support the quick pacing in the first act, which at times threatens to overwhelm slightly. Indeed, the second act is stronger than the first by merit of giving the characters more room to breathe: while the first segment displays a montage of numerous smaller scenes, the second dwells on some of the more memorable and moving moments.
For a play thematising the NHS, Tiger Country is surprisingly – and welcomingly – very unpolemical: it merely features a strong storyline with stark writing, thereby demonstrating some of the difficulties faced by hospitals everywhere – from staff shortages, mishaps and lack of equipment to the mental strain on NHS staff. This is an overall fantastic play with some spectacular moments which needs to be seen – especially with the Coronavirus pandemic currently raging across the globe.
Photo: Robert Workman