Reviewed – 10th January 2019
“The performers take accomplished material and lift it higher”
Nicholas is a psychiatrist struggling to keep his head above water. The drastically underfunded NHS hospital doesn’t have the resources he needs to be effective in his work, and at home his father is beginning to show signs of dementia. His patients are often hostile and incurable, and – like many burned-out, underpaid healthcare professionals – Nicholas begins to wonder whether the occasional small victories are enough cause to keep fighting what feels like a losing battle.
Writer Philip Osment and theatre company Playing ON have crafted Hearing Things from five years of work with psychiatrists, mental healthcare staff, and patients. The result is a poignant exploration of the UK’s broken mental healthcare system, and the ways it fails those who need it. Osment depicts the touching humanity of his characters on both sides of the doctor/patient fence. His scenes skilfully show how they reach for each other, and the obstacles between them.
The performers take accomplished material and lift it higher. All of them multirole, and none ever leave the stage. The character shifts are sudden, signalled only by a change in posture. Jim Pope successfully portrays Nicholas as a child, a university student, and an adult without any change to his appearance. Daniel Ward gives an outstanding performance as both Innocent, a young schizophrenic patient from Ghana, and Patrick, Nicholas’s father. His transformations are total. Again, without any alteration of wardrobe or appearance – just a hunch in the shoulders, a shift in accent, and a switch flicked behind the eyes – Ward is absolutely convincing as both the young, uncertain man and the intimidating, larger-than-life father.
Jeanette Rourke is a strong performer who plays Janet, a suicidal patient, Grace, Nicholas’s wife, and Hope, Innocent’s mother. However, it was disappointing and a bit uncomfortable to see a Ghanaian woman portrayed by a white actress, with accent and affect. There’s no specified ethnicity for the other two roles (Janet and Grace), so it’s a question why a white actor was cast. Lack of BAME roles, and the whitewashing of those that do exist, is an issue that’s been so passionately fought in the last year, it’s a shame to encounter it already in 2019. It’s a jarring note in the performance.
The fluidity of the play is remarkable. The set morphs as frequently as the characters, and with as little alteration. The stage is a beach – a clever illusion created using carpet and real sand – but it serves as at least five different locations, including the hospital, a house, and Sainsbury’s. That it all works, and works well, is a testament to the exceptional design, lighting, and sound team.
This is a story worth hearing now. In a fraught, overwhelming political climate that makes apathy tempting, Hearing Things reminds us why, even in the most hopeless circumstances, we still try.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Ron Bambridge
Omnibus Theatre until 27th January
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