Interview: Penny Rodie and Davide Vox, Rounds

Rounds, which opens this week at the Illuminate Festival in Wimbledon, follows six junior doctors as they try to balance their demanding jobs with a life outside work. It’s a hugely topical subject, and while they’ve avoided taking a political stance, Resuscitate Theatre are hoping the show will open audience’s eyes to the pressures – both personal and professional – faced by junior doctors every day.

Rounds Image

“I don’t think there could be a more relevant time to be doing a show like this. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and hope that the production is able to convey to audiences what it’s like to be coping with life, death and the pressures of an overstretched NHS on a daily basis,” explains Penny Rodie, who plays Dr. Lucy Wright.

“Lucy’s a hard working overachiever who often feels that her best isn’t good enough. She found things tough at medical school so is determined to prove that she’s a capable and confident doctor. Her single-mindedness means she struggles to form the close relationships she’d hoped to have with her fellow doctors, and this leads her to make some questionable choices.”

Davide Vox plays Dr. Giobbe Poretti: “Giobbe is a young Italian doctor that moved to the UK one year before the events of Rounds, in order to pursue his career in medicine. During the show we see him facing the difficulties of being a foreign doctor in an English hospital, being alone and far away from his friends and family, and struggling to create new relationships with the other doctors that revolve around him.

“We’ve taken the decision to face the issue by purely presenting junior doctors’ everyday lives, rather than push a preconception on the strikes and political situation. This gave us the chance to focus on their human relationships and feelings. When does anyone ever think about their doctor’s everyday life?”

The show’s been in development for a few months, incorporating material gained from interviews with junior doctors and the actors’ own personal research. Davide interviewed Italian doctors living and practising in the UK, and says he discovered things he would never have known:

“Lack of time for family and friends (an Italian junior doctor gets an average of 2 or 3 minutes every two weeks to speak with their relatives on Skype, as they’re constantly pushed to work not only inside the hospitals but also on their own to try and solve the natural language gap), pressure to constantly work on ameliorating their English, and racism are still big problems for all Italian doctors. Of course I was also able to relate and bring in part of my personal experience as an immigrant.

“The biggest surprise was probably that, despite the fact that they are praised and extremely respected for their professionalism, Italian doctors, like all doctors coming from non-English speaking countries, are periodically tested on their language knowledge, no matter how long they’ve been living in the country. Apparently the English test is quite challenging, even for British doctors, and one small failure can cost you a full year of mandatory break. Foreign doctors are absolutely not supported and it just doubles the pressure they’re put under.”

Wimbledon Rehearsal (13 of 15)

Penny took a different approach: “I focussed my research on mental health problems amongst doctors and NHS workers in general, as this is something that has affected Lucy’s life and continues to do so. I learnt about the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues, symptoms and triggers, and looked at how this might affect what happens in the workplace.

“I looked at a few distressing case studies where doctors’ mental health deteriorated, and found that the procedures of the General Medical Council in these circumstances can often just pile more pressure on rather than providing the support required. I came away with a sense that these were caring people whose profession failed them.

“I hope audiences have empathy for Lucy’s situation and come away with an appreciation of just how tough it can be to get through each day, no matter how passionately she might want to help people.”

Davide hopes the show will move people. “I’d like them to go away feeling related to the characters we’re bringing on stage, understanding all the turmoil, hopes and dreams of these human beings. I hope they’ll also be able to get what it means to be an immigrant and how difficult it is to be far away from home, from your family and friends, no matter where you actually come from. How the choice of leaving for another place is never easy and it always come with a lot of sacrifices.”

Rounds is at New Wimbledon Studio on 18th and 19th May.

Review: Every Seven Years at New Wimbledon Studio

Apparently, it takes seven years to completely regenerate every cell in your body. So technically, you could say that seven years from now you’d be a completely different person. Theatre Bench’s Every Seven Years puts that theory to the test, following the relationship between Pam and Ralph over 63 years, from the ages of 21 to 84, stopping in with them at seven-year intervals. During that time, we see them fall in love, get married, have children, laugh, dance, argue, get drunk and grow old, experiencing together all the ups and downs that life brings with it.

Photo credit: Ashley Carter
Photo credit: Ashley Carter

I had high hopes for this play, part of Wimbledon’s Illuminate Festival, because the summary put me in mind of Patch of Blue’s Beans on Toast (part of last year’s Illuminate, coincidentally), which I loved; the two have a similar focus on memory and how it’s often the little moments that make a life what it is. And last night I left the New Wimbledon Studio – rapidly becoming one of my favourite fringe theatres – with the same warm fuzzy feeling I got from Beans.

Charlotte Baker and Ben Fensome, who wrote the show, play Pam and Ralph throughout their lives, subtly altering their appearance and body language with each new scene so that it becomes easy to forget these are two young actors playing octogenarians. They ride the emotional rollercoaster along with the audience, one minute laughing at each other’s accents (she doesn’t understand his Wiltshire slang any more than he gets her Geordie), the next coping with a crisis that threatens to end their marriage.

Director Scott Le Crass places the two inside a ring of cardboard boxes, from which they produce shopping bags, party hats and countless cups of tea (because, as we all know, there is no situation in life – good or bad – that can’t be improved by a nice cuppa). This simple design gives the play an unsettled feeling, as if Pam and Ralph’s lives are always on the verge of momentous change – which of course, in this play, they are.

The ingenious seven-year format was inspired in part by Granada Television’s Up series of documentaries, which has been following the lives of fourteen children since 1964 by returning to interview them every seven years. By just dropping in every once in a while, the play allows the audience to join the dots and decide for ourselves how its characters got from there to here.

The moments we share aren’t necessarily the big ones – we see Pam discover Ralph’s about to propose, for instance, but not the actual proposal, and there’s a lovely moment before her 50th birthday party when the two are alone, and she describes from memory every detail of his hands. Then again, life isn’t just about the big events; sometimes it’s about two 84-year-olds sitting in their kitchen in the middle of the night, drinking tea and reflecting on the years they’ve had together.

Photo credit: Ashley Carter
Photo credit: Ashley Carter

Every Seven Years invites us in to a love story that’s as messy as it is beautiful; neither Pam nor Ralph is perfect, but they’re perfect together. And the play is a heartwarming reminder that while a lot may change in seven years – events, circumstances, even our physical bodies – some things last forever.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: Data at New Wimbledon Studio

Direct marketing is an industry we all know exists, and which we probably all realise is not a Good Thing – and yet it continues to thrive. Andrew Maddock’s new play Data, part of the Illuminate Festival at New Wimbledon Studio, aims to expose a little about how the system works, and maybe make us think twice about the many ways we willingly offer up our personal details every day.

DATA

We all know the direct marketing industry is a bit shady, but it’s also easy to dismiss as a minor irritation that doesn’t really hurt anyone. And, let’s face it, it’s not the most glamorous subject in the world. So, like all the most successful marketing campaigns, Data appeals to our emotional side in order to get the message across.

Directed by Phil Croft, three characters reveal different aspects of the industry – each beginning within their own carefully defined space before spilling out as their stories begin to interconnect. At the business end, where data is bought and sold, are professionals like Gaz and Rachel, whose job is first to get us to part with our data, and then to use it against us. The play, presented in a poetic style, manages to explain this in relatively simple terms and in a way that keeps the subject interesting, whilst simultaneously acknowledging that it’s a hugely complex system with a multitude of loopholes. 

At the other end of the story are those most at risk from Gaz and Rachel’s underhand tactics – like Bev, a lonely, confused old lady who doesn’t even remember what happened yesterday, let alone understand what TPS stands for.

Not entirely surprisingly, this is very much a story of good versus evil – and just to make sure we’re in no doubt, there’s a parallel drawn more than once between dealing in data and dealing in drugs. (“I just want leads… I think them about them all the time,” is a repeated refrain.) Gaz (Sam Ducane) is an utterly despicable character, motivated solely by money and ambition, who clearly sold his soul to the devil a long time ago, while Bev (Jean Apps) is a victim in every possible way: she’s a widow, her granddaughter wants little to do with her, her son’s moved to Australia in unpleasant circumstances; even her dog’s dead. If this were a Comic Relief video, Jean Apps’ performance would have us all reaching for our phones.

Between these two extremes – and saving the play from becoming too clean-cut – lies Rachel (Helena Doughty), with an intriguing storyline, and, it seems, at least traces of a conscience. Even as she plans her marketing campaigns for maximum emotional impact on strangers, she’s concerned for her nan’s wellbeing at the hands of other marketers, and fails to see that she herself has been manipulated by Gaz into handing over information of a different but no less powerful kind. As the one character who we don’t totally love or loathe, it would be great to see Rachel’s story developed further, particularly the relationship between what happened in her past and her attitude towards her work. Which is not to say Gaz and Bev’s stories aren’t interesting; it’s just that Rachel feels like the seesaw that could tip the balance, for better or worse.

Data certainly succeeds in provoking an emotional response, although it perhaps lacks a clearly defined call to action. The play makes us think about where our own data goes, and explains how we can protect ourselves through services like TPS (though even these, we’re told, are possible to get around). But there’s a wider problem here, which the play does a great job of educating us about – and then leaves us wondering, what can be done?


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉