Tiger Country. Hampstead Theatre. Live relay. 17-01-15

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                                                     “You can’t save everyone.”

As someone who has had quite a lot of contact with the NHS as a patient I can vouch for the authenticity of Nicola Raine’s play Tiger Country, which has just ended its second run at Hampstead theatre with a live relay of the final performance. It takes a compassionate, truthful and sometimes searing look at the NHS. It is a fearless piece of writing which lays bare the toll the NHS takes on its staff. They are a dedicated group of people who are sometimes working under enormous strain to service the needs of their patients with great care and compassion in an underfunded, flawed and cumbersome service. In spite of this it still manages to provide amazing results free at the point of delivery to patients, but not without enormous cost to those working within the system. It’s a long way from television’s Holby City. It feels real and honest and it goes at a fastand furious pace, weaving many stories together in an intricate structure to give an impression of daily life in a busy hospital.

There are some fine performances. I loved Indira Varma as Vashti, an arrogant and difficult but ultimately dedicated and compassionate surgeon. She is a very beautiful and stylish actress who also has great conviction and strength and that is quite rare. I also liked Ruth Everett and Alastair Mackenzie, who gave two heartfelt performances as a young couple whose relationship struggled under the pressures that work brought. The whole company work beautifully together and make the most of the moments that they are given. I found every one of them completely credible as people who I might meet on my hospital visits.

How the staff manage to cope with the inevitability of failure in heartrending circumstances and learn to remain both open and caring while still being hardheaded enough to cope with a constant series of difficult decisions is one of the key themes and one of the great strengths of the writing. I also admired the way that Nicola Raine stayed well away from melodrama. This is already a highly charged scenario and there is no need for it. She also directs with great skill and the play moves along quickly, helped by great timing from the actors and simple lighting and set cues to signal a change of place or mood, a difficult thing to achieve when there are a lot of short scenes.

Really good work, yet again at Hampstead. I am very grateful that the free live streaming gives me a chance to watch it up in the north of England.

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