Ravenscourt at the Hampstead Theatre – review

The first play by Georgina Burns opens in north London

Lizzy Watts as Lydia and Josef Davies as Daniel
Lizzy Watts as Lydia and Josef Davies as Daniel
© Robert Day

It is no secret that the NHS is in crisis, particularly any department that works with those needing mental health care. Georgina Burns' (a psychotherapist by trade) swift, insightful 90-minute debut play explores these troubles, highlighting the knock-on effects the lack of resources have not just on patients, but mental health workers, too.

Set in the titular psychiatric unit Ravenscourt, hardened mental health professionals Denise and Arthur (Andrea Hall and Jon Foster, respectively) welcome the younger Lydia (Lizzy Watts) to the team. Described by Arthur as a bunny rabbit (and her constant slurping of her water bottle does spring to mind the pet in its hutch), Lydia has transferred from the world of private mental health care, filled with "marketing execs and financial types". Refreshed and with a vision to change the system in some way, Lydia is handed the building's "revolving door" patient Daniel.

As Daniel, Josef Davies forms the centre of the play, delicately unfurling his feelings of anger and lack of hope that contribute to his depression as he begins to connect with Lydia. His speeches ring true, and Watts' portrayal of Lydia is one of cool professionalism – her voice rarely changing pitch, with reactions in the eyes or subtle, careful movements. But this mask begins to slip as the six sessions (no more is permitted even if the patient is making good progress, instead they must wait several more months) draw to a close. In terms of pacing, perhaps things could develop a little faster. The play's conclusion is, in some ways, a guessable cliché, but maybe there's something to be said about these true-to-life stories we already know the ending to.

Hall and Foster have great chemistry as colleagues, with plenty of office banter despite the type of work they're in – Arthur makes a risqué joke about flinging patients out the window. They may seem uncaring and cynical but Burns shows that the pair are merely used to the way the system works, despite its many frustrations.

Tessa Walker's production zips along nicely, with Debbie Duru's box-y set revealing rooms as it goes, with a clinical blue and neutral colour palette. The lighting (Matt Haskins) blinks when turned on.

Of course, Ravenscourt can only show us one facet of what's happening within NHS mental health care, and can sadly offer no solutions (apart from, obviously, more investment and less dismissal). But this is an accomplished debut by Burns, and Hampstead's Studio programming continues to knock it out of the park.