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Review Round-up: Raine's Tiger Far from Tame

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Nina Raine’s Tiger Country premiered at Hampstead Theatre last week (19 January, previews from 13 January), continuing Edward Hall's inaugural season as artistic director.

The play, Raine’s third after her award-winning Rabbit and Tribes, presents a “funny and vivid exploration of life in a highly pressured London hospital”, seen through the lens of the frenetic medical and surgical wards. What ethical decisions are made in our NHS hospitals everyday? Who makes them – and what external issues influence them?

Raine herself directs a cast comprising David Cann, Pip Carter, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Ruth Everett, Adam James, Thusitha Jayasundera, Joan Kempson, Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Maggie McCarthy, Nicolas Tennant and Harvey Virdi.

Overnight and weekend critics were generally impressed, despite some squeamish moments. Tiger Country continues until 5 February 2011.

Michael Coveney

"At first, Raine’s own production is a tumultuous, occasionally inaudible hubbub in a drastically reconfigured auditorium with an acting area as big as a football pitch, scratchy projections of indecipherable operations, two pairs of swing doors and a babble of activity familiar to anyone crossing a hospital threshold. But you’re gradually drawn into what is a meticulously researched and totally absorbing work play. Raine doesn’t glibly enter the recent (to most of us, incomprehensible) squabbles about NHS reform, nor does she aim to construct a ‘state-of-the-nation’ metaphor, though some of the exchanges have the cutting edge and packed anger of David Hare’s dialogue … On the way, we have informative insights into testicular surgery, cardiac procedures, cancer treatments and the sheer physical grind and pressure of the work we all benefit from, even when nothing is ideally organized and no-one agrees on what happens next (as a patient, you just thank God for anaesthetics).”

Susannah Clapp

Tiger Country was actually started before Tribes, which remains Raine's best work so far. It has the metro wit and banter of her first play, Rabbit, but a bigger canvas and more elaborate movement … This is not an obviously political play. It is not about NHS cuts, though it does have things to say about shortage of time and staff, and about constant fatigue: ‘I'm losing patience with the patients’ … You are in tiger country in an operating theatre when you take a knife close to an artery. Raine's achievement is to stage a world governed by the laws of that country … And when they take off their gowns (and settle down to watch Doctors on the telly), their love affairs are arrhythmic, as if they too are moving to a hospital beat.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“Raine wrote the play after shadowing staff in several NHS facilities. It probes the nature of what happens in surgery and during workers' rare moments of leisure. There's a whiff of House and Holby City but also a perspicacity that's very much the author's own … Raine directs with slick efficiency. She's established a nice sense of ensemble, and there are well-defined individual performances from Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Pip Carter, Ruth Everett and Adam James … There's evidence of a tremendous amount of research, and this can prove a hindrance. Some characters and their stories feel underdeveloped. Yet, as one would expect from the creator of the clever, caustic Tribes, a success at the Royal Court last year, this play is replete with bold writing. Irreverent and unsentimental, it's alive to the idea of healthcare as a pageant - giving new meaning to the words ‘operating theatre’.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"During the operating theatre sequences – in which one poor man has one of his testicles removed, another has bloody fluid drained from his lungs and doctors and nurses try to revive heart attack victims – I sometimes found myself staring squeamishly at the floor rather than closely observing the on-stage action. As TS Eliot remarked, ‘human kind cannot bear very much reality’. Yet for all its many merits, the play strikes me as a disappointment. With a cast of 11, several playing multiple roles, it is hard to keep tabs on all the characters and I cannot see that Raine is doing much more here than offering a theatrical replication of the umpteen hospital dramas that have for so long been a mainstay of television schedules.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Hospital dramas on telly never quite do it for me. I can’t bear the overlit melodrama of the nurses’ lives and the bursts of ­sullen selfishness amid the medical emergencies. Now, playwright Nina Raine brings that sort of hospital affair to the stage. It turns out to be pacy, action-packed and, in places, touching. The sheer ­spectacle of the thing, brilliantly directed by Miss Raine, is so much more ­impressive than on the small screen … The show has just 11 actors, but they make it feel three times that many, so well drilled are the exits and entrances … I have in the past had cause to chide Miss Raine for childish bad language. Here there is again some bad language, but she seems to be growing up. Good. She is plainly a strong talent. This play is easily worthy of a bigger venue.”

Paul Taylor

"This is a tough one but try to imagine a medically accurate variant of Holby City – no, don't give up yet – as reconceived by the David Hare who wrote the great trilogy about beleaguered national institutions. Now picture the result filtered through a witty, highly intelligent, PC-scourging sensibility … This stage drama consciously annexes the territory of TV soap in order to do for over-stretched, under-sung doctors what Hare did for inner-city clerics in Racing Demon and the police in Murmuring Judges … The play has been meticulously researched and advertises this to the point of self-parody at times. But Raine writes with a fine mix of astringent objectivity and empathy … And if you fancy watching a testicle-removal in intimate close-up, Tiger Country is just what the doctor ordered."


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