It’s been a long old week. A couple of work trips and several late nights meant that by the time Friday rolled around, I was feeling pretty shattered and wanted nothing more than to go home and collapse into bed.
Why am I telling you this? Because fortunately, I have an office job where being tired might mean I’m a bit less productive than usual, but isn’t a matter of life or death. Now imagine being that tired and having to carry out complex medical procedures, or administer drugs that could, in the wrong dosage, prove lethal. And then imagine it’s your very first day as a junior doctor, you don’t know where anything is and suddenly you’re responsible for real patients in real pain, who expect you to know exactly what to do to help them.
In Resuscitate Theatre’s Rounds, six junior doctors are about to learn that just wanting to help people – which seems the most fundamental requirement for a medical professional – may not be enough. The show touches on several of the issues facing the people we rely on to keep us healthy… and it’s terrifying. Long shifts, abuse – racist and sexist – from patients, indifferent management and the fear of knowing one wrong move could cost someone their life are all piled on top of the usual problems faced by 20-somethings just out of uni, like romance, fitting in with colleagues and finding a work/life balance (and someone to feed the cat).
Directed by Anna Marshall, an internationally diverse cast (Christina Carty, Alex Hinson, Nicolas Pimpare, Penelope Rodie, Iain Gibbons and Adam Deane) bring to life the six young doctors, each of them coping in their own way – and some better than others – with the pressures and insecurities of their job. At just an hour in length, the show gives some of the characters a little more air-time than others, with one in particular ultimately taking centre stage in a conclusion that’s simultaneously shocking and somehow inevitable. This is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, it means we don’t really get to know the characters that well; on the other, by spreading the focus quite thinly the show is able to demonstrate the vast number of problems that need to be addressed.
The set, designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen, is deceptively simple, made up of six medical screens which form a vital part of the show’s choreography. The movement sequences within Rounds tell us just as much as any of the dialogue scenes; choreographed by Lexi Clare and directed by Davide Vox, they effectively convey the frantic nature of an average day through the repetition of routine tasks like checking x-rays or scrubbing up for surgery, while curtains are whisked aside again and again as the doctors treat a seemingly endless stream of patients.
The characters on stage are fictional, but based on real stories (in fact the show was devised with input from junior doctors) and it’s sobering to realise that they represent the doctors treating us and our loved ones every day, in increasingly difficult circumstances. When the show was first performed at last year’s Illuminate Festival, the junior doctors’ dispute with the government was making headlines. Though it may no longer be the top story, that doesn’t mean the problem’s gone away, and if anything, shows like Rounds are more important than ever, to keep the problems faced by junior doctors – and the NHS in general – in the spotlight. And on a more personal level, it may make the rest of us think twice before complaining about a bad day at work.
Rounds is at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 25th March.