Nina Raine Depicts Struggles of Exploited Medics
by Patricia L. Morin
Even on the small screen, “Tiger Country” brings us into the jungle of a besieged British public hospital, the famed National Health Service, where every move can mean life or death.
Nina Raine has written and directed a series of quick-paced, thoughtful vignettes focusing on hospital workers, through the lives of Urology Specialist Vashti (dynamic Indira Varma), naïve, new Surgeon Emily (engaging Ruth Everett), and affable Cardiologist John (sympathetic Alastair Mackenzie). Each of them strains to deal with waves of emergency patients who flow into a vast empty ward at an underfunded and overcrowded NHS hospital.
Comedy unfolds, too, as the quick-witted medical crew gossip and tease each other. Once, they even break into a hilarious “Happy” dance while in the operating room. We connect with the staff’s care for each other, and become more empathetic to medical workers who are constantly pushed to their limits.
We realize that New York and L.A., Louisiana and Washington are living this tumultuous nightmare, and our medical workers suffer under a chaotic system—not universal or caring as the British NHS.
Scenic designers Lizzie Clachan and Neil Austin invite us into a wide-open stage with three lighted swinging doors. Actors playing medics move in and out at breakneck speed, becoming prey to unleashed urgency.
Raine artfully directs her medical team frustrated by the lack of beds, equipment, and help. When a bed arrives, it carries a dead person, already. When a gurney rolls in, Mrs. Bracken (Tricia Kelly) complains, “For five years I’ve been asking for a new table, this is an illegal 27-year-old table … the money’s been diverted.”
Ambitious Dr. Vashti is demanding and unyielding. She has to act like a white guy to gain their respect; and she resents the demeaning remarks from Dr. Mark (Nick Hendrix), her subordinate. Because gender discrimination still reigns in most workplaces, I am thrilled that “Tiger Country” uses Dr. Vashti’s convictions and expertise to question male dominance in the medical world.
Junior Doctor Emily is still hopefully idealistic, but is crushed when her patient dies. Dr. John explains, “You’re new … You’re still worried about people dying.” She struggles to balance compassion with the detached objectivity of a surgeon.
Shocked that there are not enough crucial drugs, and equipment, Emily slams the cabinet door and demands, “Where is it?” The reply: “We don’t have any more. Here use this instead.”
This play touches us deeply with the staff’s psychological strain, their personal conflicts, and glaring gender inequality. But the underlining reality horrifies. If the hospital had sufficient drugs, more staff, and enough equipment, more patients would survive. It’s that simple.
The health care system in the U.S. is a jungle, and the Covid 19 plague in the US has run up the most cases and deaths, anywhere. We still have precious few valid tests and many false reports.
Our medical workers are falling ill and dying. Refrigerator trucks in New York are filling up with bodies. Our present administration has sentenced, by negligence and misappropriation, thousands of people to death.
Nina Raine’s heartfelt and emotional work at Hampstead Theatre brings home the truth. Not to be missed.
“Tiger Country” written & directed by Nina Raine, at Hampstead Theatre, England, streaming till Sunday, April 26, 2020. FREE On Line: hampsteadtheatre.com
Cast: Ruth Everett, Souad Faress, Jenny Galloway, Nick Hendrix, Maxwell Hutcheon, Tricia Kelly, Alastair Mackenzie, Wunmi Mosaku, Shaun Parkes, Luke Thompson, and Indira Varma.