Takin’ Over the Asylum

May 24 2018 | By More

★★★★☆   Serious comedy

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 23–Sat 26 May 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

‘We are loonies and we are proud’ declare the cast of Takin’ Over The Asylum – a statement that many will find a combination of over-worthiness and bad taste.

EPT’s production is far too warm-hearted and crafted ever to be preachy, and any tastelessness is far outweighed by genuine humour.

Joanna Meiklejohn, Kelly Simmonds, Pat Hymers, Ritzy Rajaswi, Peter Morrison, Lynsey Spence

Donna Franceschild’s play – adapted from her own 1994 BBC Scotland programme, and seen at the Lyceum in 2013 – tells of alcoholic double-glazing salesman and DJ ‘Ready’ Eddie McKenna, whose efforts to revive the hospital radio at St Jude’s have an impact on several supposed lost causes – not least himself.

Attempts at updating the story to the era of the smartphone are not always successful, and the episodic, lop-sided structure betrays its serial roots. However, at heart this is a successful tragicomedy whose points about discrimination against those with mental health problems, and about the monetisation of health care, are well made – if not always subtle.

That this production is so successful is due to the balancing act that director Mike Brownsell and his cast manage. There is a great deal of energy and humour in the acting, without anything ever becoming caricatured.

Most notable in this regard is Peter Morrison as the hyperactive Campbell – the role which contributed a great deal to the burgeoning stardom of a certain David Tennant in the TV version.

hugely magnetic

It is certainly possible to quibble with the portrayal of someone with bipolar disorder who only seems to have manic episodes, but Morrison’s performance is not only hugely magnetic, it is sympathetic enough to avoid any sense of a cartoon.

Pat Hymers, Sarah Howley, Kelly Simmonds, Ruth Finlay (Kevin Edie behind), Ritzy Rajaswi, Peter Morrison, Lynsey Spence and Joanna Meiklejohn. Pic: Graham Bell

Some of the characters can certainly be troubling. The praiseworthy championing of neurodiversity can topple over into over-romanticism; there is also a reliance on the suggestion that depression or OCD, for example, can be explained away by single traumatic events.

Once again, however, the performances here are rounded enough to overcome this. Both Sarah Howley, as the withdrawn Francine, and Lynsey Spence (cleaning-obsessed Rosalie) are particularly good when it comes to revealing their particular past sorrows.

Pat Hymers is suitably crumpled and hangdog as Eddie, with his enthusiasm for the wonderful 1960s soul music that peppers the production providing an effective contrast to his otherwise defeated air.

The structure of the play as opposed to the series, however, means that Eddie’s growing attachment to Francine is overshadowed; here it simply does not ring true.

heartache and humanity

This is the only real weak link in what is otherwise an assured set of performances. There is a heartache and humanity to Kevin Edie’s escape-artist Fergus that is very affecting, while Ray Pattie’s nurse and Ruth Finlay’s administrator have a humour and depth that compensate for the one-dimensional nature of their characters.

Pat Hymers, Kevin Edie, Lynsey Spence, Ray Pattie, Peter Morrison and Peter Tait. Pic: Graham Bell

Joanna Meiklejohn, Ritzy Rajaswi and Kelly Simmonds give the three patients Aileen, Hector and Margaret a similar believability, not least in the way that they – like everyone else in Brownsell’s well-knit ensemble – know exactly what their character is doing every second of the play.

The set – sturdily constructed by Alasdair White – is beautifully realised, and stands up to almost everything thrown at it. If the gaps between the scenes are a little on the long side, this is more than compensated by the music that accompanies them. It only adds to the bittersweet edge that the script and cast provide in that rare thing – a tragicomedy that is both very funny and profoundly sad.

Running time: two hours 30 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 23– Saturday 26 May2018
Wed – Fri at 7.30 pm; Sat matinee 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: www.ept.org.uk.

Ritzy Rajaswi, Joanna Meiklejohn, Kelly Simmonds, Pat Hymers, Kevin Edie, Peter Morrison, Lynsey Spence, Sarah Howley. Pic: Graham Bell


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Comments (2)

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  1. Bill Wright says:

    The Director seems to be finding his true vocation. Well done to him and the cast!!!

  2. Nandini Sen says:

    Celebration of neuro diversity, apt words for this magnificent play…