Review: Leaving the Ward

Ashley Chhibber 6 March 2013

Leaving the Ward

Tues 5th – Sat 9th Mar, Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm

Leaving the ward means stepping out into the dangers of the outside world but the supposedly safe space of the ward is no less difficult to bear. Georgie, depressed, vulnerable and sometimes suicidal, does not want to make the decision to move on with her life. Is she progressing at all? Is leaving the ward even a possibility, or is she too haunted by pain of her previous existence?

To say that Georgie is the play would not be an exaggeration: Maria Pawlikowska’s initial script focused almost entirely on this central character; other characters were devised in dialogue with their actors, using such techniques as hot-seating and improvisation. This combination of influences worked very well, resulting in a very tight script and an interesting, if perhaps slightly uneventful, storyline.

The use of sound and lighting, with blackouts between the many scene changes, was simple but effective. Equally, the positioning of the furniture so as to suggest merely the outlines of three separate rooms added a clinical feel, whilst also emphasising the enclosed space in which the characters are trapped. All characters but Georgie changed clothes as the play progressed and they went about their lives, indicating her particular position as (initially) more of a bored observer than an active participator in the events of the ward.

Unfortunately, Ellen Robertson, who played Georgie, did not feel quite up to the task. Although her scattered monologues were well delivered, for most of the piece she lacked emotional intensity and seemed quite hesitant. Part of this is due to the personality of the character, and it could be argued that the feeling of relative emotional stability which this creates hints at a sub-text asking how real her ‘illness’ might be, but it seemed more that Robertson was not quite able to bring out the nuances required by this central role. In one scene, the first in which Georgie loses her cool, the shock of her violent outburst worked very well; unfortunately, such a technique only works once. To Roberson’s credit, her particular brand of dry humour was spot on but her overall performance was slightly too weak to support the entire piece.

The play’s best feature is undoubtedly the strength of the supporting cast, all of whom put in very individual and powerful performances. Mark Wartenberg (Dr Cohen) and Freddy Sawyer (Ewan) both found a balance between the consummate professional and the flawed human being, a balance particularly necessary in the two ‘sane’ characters, and also complemented each other. Pete Skidmore (Jacob) gave a strong portrayal of violent psychosis and Freddie Poulton was very controlled in her role as the ever-victimised Frankie. For me, the star was Chloe France as Julia: the character was certainly cruel and manipulative but showed enough of her tender side that it remained possible to sympathise with her and so, by extension, with the rest of the characters. Why bother leaving the ward, when the characters that populate it are themselves so fascinating?

Ashley Chhibber