After the success of her previous works Rabbit and Tribes, a new play by Nina Raine was always going to be something of a theatrical event. Add in that she is also directing and making her debut at Hampstead Theatre and the expectation grows. Sadly, and perhaps because of the anticipation, her latest offering Tiger Country doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Set in a London hospital, Tiger Country is a look at the pressures faced by NHS staff. Multiple story strands interweave as patients and staff battle both themselves and the system.
The NHS like any large organisation has its own social structure and pecking order and Tiger Country looks at staff on various levels of the ladder. Emily is an up and coming SHO who is still new enough into the role to fret over each decision, Mark is an ambitious surgeon who thinks his supervisor Vashti is bullying him. Vashti herself feels held back as she’s not seen as a team manager and Consultant John is battling his own medical problems.
This interwoven, fast paced structure works well to convey the hustle and bustle of a real hospital and the pressure its staff face but it also means we never fully engage with the characters, as soon as we begin to relate to the particular problem another gurney is wheeled onstage and another character emerges.
It is all very well staged and acted, with some nice moments from the large, multi role playing cast. The traverse staging allowing for fast scene changes and the feeling of constant flux. Projections of scans, endoscope views and cardiograms onto the walls of the theatre add to authenticity – all that is missing is that smell of hospital disinfectant. The show also seems better equipped than many struggling hospital wards with a vast selection of medical equipment being wheeled on and off stage.
At the end of the day though it does feel like you are watching a stage adaptation of Casualty rather than any real examination of the issues facing the NHS. It’s highly watchable (if you are not squeamish over a bit of blood) but given the challenges facing the NHS in the current financial environment is there not a stronger story to be told here. The moments in the play when it looks like the system fails are swiftly bypassed and as such it ends up as a rose tinted look at an idolised NHS system.
Nina Raine obviously has talent but on Tiger Country needs to dig deeper into the wilderness to come up with a truly gripping play.