Hampstead latest opening in a new play by Nina Raine. I had mixed feelings about her last play, Tribes, though enjoyed (reading) her first, Rabbit. It turns out Tiger Country is completely unlike the other two. I think I like it more than either of the first.
Tiger Country is a hospital drama. It has a large cast and many characters but the main stories we follow are those of Vashti, a registrar whose brittle arrogant manner may get in the way of her promotion, and Emily a new Senior House Officer in A&E, who is distressed that her wish to keep people alive must be replaced by an acceptance that people will die.
It’s flamboyantly well-researched, both in the sense of restless energy that floods the stage, and in the linguistic detail. There are great lines that surely must come from doctor’s conversations: a boot up the arse is described as a ‘leather suppository’ for example. The black humour and general contempt for their patients rings true and so too does the backbiting, the bullying, the steep hierarchies, the sexism and the flashes of idealism.
The play occasionally gets a bit overwhelmed by its research and it can seem as if you’re watching a documentary play, though there’s too much else to tell you that you’re not so the play is, on one level, a bit uncertain of its focus. But I think it’s about death, really, and the way we fight against its inevitability, sometimes in panic, sometimes full of idealism. It’s also about institutional life, with a fine eye to the way women, in high-pressure, adrenalin-rich professions, are caught between being scorned by men if they don’t behave like men, and scorned by men for being unfeminine. It’s good about the frustration of institutional inertia and then, in a couple of slower-paced intimate scene, it also shows doctors working well, speaking with care and sensitivity.
There are many stories it has to set going so the first half felt like it was rather slow. The second half whips along though and the stories all seem to come to a plausible pitch. The production - also directed by Raine - asks us to join in an implacable acceptance of death. A person dies on the table; Emily decides to stop treatment; the body is removed and the final image is a hospital orderly, with a v-sweeper, removing the last debris from the stage as the light dies. It’s a very moving moment as the restless energy of the production is replaced by emptiness.