Corpus Playroom, Tues 12th- Sat 16th, 7pm
There was a blue backdrop covering the walls of Corpus. There were oranges on the table. It was definitely Blue / Orange. And it definitely made us think. For almost two hours, issue after issue was thrown at the audience, ranging from race to mental illness, from social competition to the decline of our own health service.
There can be little doubt that the play is extremely well written. Although the subject-matter often seemed familiar, it never fell into the realms of cliche, and constantly kept the audience focused on the issues at hand, thanks to the ever-shifting nature of the debates between patient and doctor, doctor and supervisor, which were adeptly handled by the small cast.
Although it is easy to imagine how striking the play must have been when it first appeared at the National – during concerns over Blair’s handling of the NHS in the early 2000s – the plot seemed just as pertinent today, which is testament both to Joe Penhall’s excellent scripting and the skills of the actors.
From his very first “You know what I’m sayin'”, Joey Akubeze (Christopher) was compelling, and he remained so throughout the performance. In such a challenging role as a patient originally diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, Akubeze proved himself more than capable of jumping between moods at the flick of a switch. This could have been wearing, but instead kept the audience on edge as long as he was on stage. The first scene was a fantastic example of this: his restrained gymnastics while sitting down, and his sudden switches from participant in lively banter to interrogator were suitably unhinged. His later moods as paranoid and fragile were equally well depicted.
Moreover, the dynamic between himself and George Stubbins (Bruce) was worryingly ambiguous, as the audience were never sure of who was really in control of the situation. This was well put across by Stubbins, whose restrained frustration was simply and effectively shown. My only criticism here would be the pacing of some of the lines; at times, they seemed hurried, thus trampling over the dramatic potential of the script. A few longer pauses here and there would have meant that the delivery was perfect.
At the same time, the darkly comic lines were extremely well interjected by the actors, and especially by Hugh Stubbins, as the overbearing Robert. His first entrance was hugely entertaining, and never allowed us to forget his presence. Restrained until the very end, the characterisation was totally believable throughout.
The use of the Playroom itself was practically flawless, with the positioning of the chairs allowing the whole audience a perfect view of the intense dialogues. In such a tricky performance space, it is to be expected that some of the action would be missed due to blocking, but the excellent cast ensured this did not happen.
There were a few fluffed lines, but that was barely noticeable; the fantastic thing about this play was the way in which the actors dealt the debate without sliding into moralising. This exploration of the fragility of the human condition was at once witty, tragic and believable, thanks to clever direction by Emma Wilkinson, a well-wrought script and superb acting.