Review: Rounds at the Blue Elephant Theatre

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.

Penny Rodie, Rounds

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.

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… 😉

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.