There’s a moment in Rounds when two junior doctors sit down on a couch in front of the TV, and rather tongue-in-cheeked, watch Grey’s Anatomy while commenting on how the doctors never seem to wash their hands. A TV medical drama this is not, and inspired by real interviews conducted with junior doctors working for the NHS, Rounds was created specifically to address the many issues doctors face in the NHS today, from stress to the very moral code that keeps them going as doctors.
Rounds follows six junior doctors on placement at a single hospital in London as they battle their way through difficult patients, crushing bureaucracy and seemingly endless shifts. The characters are familiar, people you’ll most likely have come across whether you’ve been to medical school or not: Dr Lucy Wright (Penelope Rodie) has a medical history, Dr Tom Jenkins (Adam Deane) is a privileged boarding school kid who’s basically an asshole, doing the job for the money, Dr Grace Collins (Alex Hinson) is a bright eyed, bushy tailed and capable doctor doing it simply because she wants to help others, Dr Felicity Clarke (Christina Carty) is a free spirited social butterfly drowning her stress in alcohol, Dr Kal Sharma (Nicolas Pimpare) is an Indian doctor who buries himself in his studies to be the best he can be, and Dr Dominic Cavendish (Ian Gibbons) is somewhat awkward, nervous, but very much in love with Dr Collins.
As the audience, we’re treated to a quick summary of the six doctors’ lives in hospital. Opening with a sleeping Dr Jenkins, the peace is quickly annihilated with a beautifully stylized sequence set to Bjork’s Oh Lately It’s So Quiet, and the true chaos of the placement begins. On their very first day, the doctors are already beset with a mountain of paperwork, learning how to navigate the hospital grounds and even tasked to do a lumbar puncture. Dr Wright in particular, comes in with a figurative crutch – she’s called out for having taken time off from medical school due to a medical condition, an issue she’s unable to defend herself on and later leads to her detriment. By the end of the first day, all of them, save for the high energy Dr Clarke, are exhausted and ready for bed. But even Dr Clarke’s energy doesn’t last for long, and soon, while working the night shift, she too becomes prone to cranky fits and is ready to blow.
I found myself rooting for the twee development of Dr Cavendish and Dr Collins’ blossoming relationship, from pretending his chicken was a patient as he prepared dinner, to volunteering to feed her uncle’s cat (and struggling to do so before falling asleep at her place). There’s a moment where Dr Cavendish is absolutely exhausted, and Dr Collins attempts to help him with a simple exercise that develops into a full blown theatre-type exercise, as the two begin performing a kind of dance with each other with their hands and eyes. They work together, and are both great doctors in training, which makes it even more difficult to bear when Dr Collins’ gets her greatest moment in the play later on, as her spirit is crushed by the departure of a senior doctor she’d always imagined she’d end up becoming like.
Anna Marshall has a keen sense for the theatrical, and her direction works very well in tandem with Naomi Kyuck-Cohen’s simple yet effective set design. Consisting a few select pieces of furniture, the cast nimbly shifts framed curtains resembling hospital ward paraphernalia around throughout the play, using them to both obscure and reveal the private moments of doctors’ lives and represent the hectic nature of it all. In a particularly memorable sequence, the curtains are drawn to reveal Dr Clarke partying the night away while guzzling whole bottles of wine, as Dr Collins and Dr Wright fret and rush around. Marshall knows exactly when to employ monologues, and in a later part of the play, places Dr Wright and Dr Jenkins side by side under spotlight, as they each respond to an inquiry in completely different ways that really brings out their characters. Credit is also due to Paul Freeman’s evocative soundtrack, which manages to match each sequence perfectly, from the quiet to the frenetic.
Not every doctor’s story is given as much weight as the others, for example, Dr Sharma’s story, although it touches lightly on the issue of racism in the NHS when a patient requests a white doctor, never quite goes beyond that and his role as the studious one of the group. However, though brief, the overall effect of Rounds gives enough of an insight and introduction to these people to see them as three dimensional human beings, each with their own goals and personalities, as opposed to merely being a mouthpiece for a social message. For an hour long play, Rounds does a fantastic job of portraying the experiences of junior doctors as they mature into adulthood and are faced with the monumental task of becoming doctors in the real world and all it entails.
Resuscitate Theatre isn’t afraid of going into the darker aspects of the job, from the schizoaffective disorder Dr Wright experiences in psych, to Dr Collins’ breakdown and disillusionment, but at the same time offers little flashes of hope, such as Dr Clarke standing up for herself when she finds out she’d be working with Dr Jenkins for her next placement. But ultimately, as the play ends with Dr Collins lashing out at her superiors, angrily telling them that once they’re gone, there’ll just be another batch of junior doctors, the problem is made clear: it’s not just an isolated group that we’ve seen, but a cyclical problem that exists across the NHS as a whole. Resuscitate Theatre has done a fantastic job of creating a piece that’s both socially relevant, and also theatrically brilliant, making its message of effecting change resonate all the more in its viewers.
Rounds plays from 16-18 March & 23-25 March at 8pm at the Blue Elephant Theatre. To book tickets, either show up in person or call up their box office at (44) 020 7701 0100. If you know someone who might be under heavy stress, feel free to refer them to the peer support group Doctors’ Support Network
Photo Credit: Stephen Poole