A hospital drama is the unlikely choice for the Traverse's latest play from up and coming Scottish playwright Isabel Wright. But in the event, the only casualty is Wright herself, as she overstretches her writing to the point where it is trying to say too much and as a result not saying very much at all, although she does so with more than a modicum of style.
Set in the research ward of a large Glasgow hospital, Mr Placebo watches four men as they become guinea-pigs for a week in the final trial of a new drug. In this institutional environment where the only nurse seems to be Silas, played by Glenn Chapman, the testosterone quickly kicks in with the order of the playground beginning to make itself felt.
Chief bully boy is Howie, played by the consistently convincing Stuart Bowman. He has an unkind word for everybody whether it is racist taunts at Tariq (Parvez Qadir), attacking Jude (Benjamin Davies) for his near English accent or Ben (Garry Collins) for being a student. All are only there for the expenses. And all are frightened - if not one of them is about to admit it openly.
When this sticks to pure masculinity and aggression, it works reasonably well thanks to robust direction from Wilson Milam. He has managed to get such a level of physicality in to the performances and interaction that it breaths the life of realism into the whole. Less effective is the attempt to pick at working class Howie's motives.
But it is when the ethical questions about testing drugs on humans begin to surface, that it really begins to flounder. Chapman is left with some particularly dodgy monologues about the subject and even when it is revealed that Jude is really there so he can visit his dying father Frank (John Stahl) in another part of the hospital the subject is clunky in the face of the other naturalistic exchanges.
What does work is Dick Bird's set for the ward, which is so realistic you can practically smell it. And by setting Frank's secluded room high above the ward, it makes him seem like some minor deity for whose benefit all this research is being carried out. Which is about as profound as Wright ever manages to get. A good attempt, but you wonder if the production is a placebo itself.
- Thom Dibdin (reviewed at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre)