Duchess Theatre, London WC2
Opened 30 April, 2001

**** Terrific play, terrifying performances

Joe Penhall's brilliantly thoughtful play about professional ethics and prejudice in the mental health system enters the West End.

In form, it's a simple three-hander: Christopher, a young and possibly schizophrenic Londoner of African parentage, about to be released after his 28 days on a "section"; Bruce, the young trainee psychiatrist who has been dealing with his case; and Robert, the senior consultant who sees in him a possible research value for a half-completed book. The audience sits on all four sides of the small square on which the various meetings and confrontations take place in Roger Michell's production. It is often thrilling, even electrifying. It is also sometimes deeply annoying.

It may be deliberate that, as tensions mount and accusations of racism fly, the doctors seem to grow as agitated as the patient, but it can simply look like wild overacting. As well as a great command of stillness and nuance, Bill Nighy has a wide range of tics and quirks as an actor, and he gives full vent to all of them here as Robert; Andrew Lincoln as Bruce feels sort of obliged to keep up with him. Paradoxically, the supposedly unpredictable mood swings of Christopher (in Chiwetel Ejiofor's terrific performance) seem more natural than the doctors' hysterics.

Written for

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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