Many plays have tackled the complex and troubling world of mental health but Georgina Burns’s thrilling debut play shifts the focus across the tissue box-topped coffee table to the therapist and counsellors themselves.
Lydia is new to Ravenscourt, a mental health hospital and therapist provider, having decided to make the jump from private to NHS counsellor. But with challenging patients and the added intricacy of budgetary and resource limits, her belief in the cause risks being trampled. Can she continue to better her patients and strive for their improved future despite her colleagues’ weathered outlook on the service they provide?
They say write what you know and Georgina Burns has done exactly that. Before becoming an alumnus of Hampstead Theatre’s INSPIRE programme, Burns worked for ten years as a psychotherapist in the NHS, meaning that this insight into the mental health caregiving world is not only authentic but packed with detail. Burns’s dialogue is efficient, balanced and beautifully natural as if we simply listening in to real conversations. Burns draws on her experience to create well-rounded characters that all have their own satisfying arcs nestled in the 90-minute runtime. The fact that this is a professional debut for Burns is outstanding and worthy of all the praise that will surely be coming its way - I am excited to see what she delivers next.
Leading the cast as Lydia is Lizzy Watts, who is given a brilliant opportunity to flex her acting range and does so with ease. As a new recruit to Ravenscourt, she is calm, confident and assertive yet as the weight piles on she steadily crumbles in a highly convincing manner. When paired with Josef Davies as patient Daniel the pair work seamlessly and the therapy sessions feel delicately real. Davies has room to play within his character’s struggles but does so honestly and with care, ensuring that Daniel is more than a two-dimensional stereotype of mental health sufferers.
Completing the cast are Andrea Hall as Denise and Jon Foster as Arthur, two of Lydia’s colleagues at Ravenscourt. Having battled the system for many years their outlook is somewhat narrowed compared to Lydia’s, but thanks to Burns’s text and strong performances from both, their bluntness and unwillingness do not make them unlikeable but instead more convincing and credible as characters. Both bring much-needed humour to the play and represent the real caregivers working to heal and help patients in the face of a structure that often allows people to fail.
Versatile design work from Debbie Duru works wonderfully in the Hampstead Downstairs and utilises clever yet simple composition to extend the space whilst simultaneously grounding the production in a convincing setting. All of this is supported by capable lighting design from Matt Haskins and sound design from Anna Short each subtly effective in the transition between scenes.
Productions like Ravenscourt are often less than comfortable to sit through but they are uniquely powerful in delivering accurate representations of people or services in crisis and are guaranteed to leave you mulling over their contents long after you have left the theatre. This play deserves to be seen because of the quality of the message it carries and frankly it needs to be put in front of
those holding the purse strings of our NHS. Led by a magnificent debut script this is a production that understands the weight of what it is saying and conveys it truthfully and with grace - a must-see.
Runs until 29 October 2022
Review: Henry Longstaff Photo: Robert Day