‘Takin’ Over The Asylum’ (Studio at the Festival: 15 – 17 May ’14)

Takin' over the Asylum

‘Mike Paton, as the schizophrenic computer wizard, provides a deeply moving performance, rather lost in all that excess material like a thong in a duvet.’

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

Eddie’s dreams of becoming a celebrated DJ have not exactly worked out. He’s not on Radio 1. Nor is he headlining at Radio Clyde. Instead he’s eking out a living as a double-glazing salesmen. When the opportunity to run St. Jude’s hospital radio comes about, Eddie seizes the chance to share his love of Soul music with a captive audience.

His in-patient listeners are an assortment of characters, each struggling with mental health issues serious enough for them to require round-the-clock supervision. With no other agenda than playing his records, the tables are turned. In Eddie the patients, especially the frenergetic young radio enthusiast Campbell, find a sympathetic ear into which they can pour their frustrations and confidences.

Donna Francechild’s script is partly the product of her own battle with the effects of bi-polar. Softly spoken Eddie (Alan Richardson) is its focus. He’s an ideal sounding board, reflecting the inner and outer turmoils of the patients. Richardson’s reactions in each of his onstage relationships help to reveal something far more intricate than the traditional stereotype of those with mental health problems.

Richardson is fortunate to be playing along with a highly capable cast who set their individual portraits into a greater whole. The effect is not unlike John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence. As with the painting there is a sense of inclusion, a painstaking accuracy and attention detail but also a starchiness. It doesn’t help that Francechild’s canvas is too big; untrimmed material unstretched.

Takin’ Over The Asylum is a reimagining of a 20 year old BBC TV script (originally starring Ken Stott and David Tennant). But 1994 is not 2014. If you don’t agree then compare John Simm in the all but forgotten sitcom Men of the World with what he’s got up to more recently in Prey. Already something of a hybrid, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest spliced with Good Morning Vietnam, the uping-to-dating of Takin’ (references to podcasting and internet radio) fails to address how private an act listening to music is in the age of MP3. Why the reimaging? What was wrong with 1994 as a time and place?

What has been preserved is the episodic feel of the TV series. The sense of a single overarching narrative, one focused on a particular set of key events, is dimmed to the point of obscurity. Relationships progress suddenly out of no where. Confidences are exchanged when the scene before the characters were strangers to one another.

None of this detracts from the essential point that the onstage work in this production is of a very high order. For all that there is a lack of theatrical devices and the scene changes are painfully slow, there is some fantastic character work on offer. Calum Barbour as Campbell never flags or falters. He’s so good I even find myself warming to the twerpish Campbell. Pacy and racy, Lynsey Crawford as Francine is superb, revealing her scars with a tender emotion that presents a person as well as a victim – and I’m not just saying that because she lists kickboxing as a hobby.

Mike Paton, as the schizophrenic computer wizard, Fergus (who was an electrical engineer in the TV series), provides a deeply moving performance, rather lost in all that excess material like a thong in a duvet. Jane Black as the OCD Rosalie was truly sensational. I feel in love with her. Cared about her. And can’t bear to think about what she will have to face on the outside when she leaves St Jude’s.

Derek Blackwood’s set design is spot on and elegantly lit. This was my first venture into the Studio at the Festival (entrance via Potterrow) and it was great to see the space being used so well.

I’m not sure why they decided on assigned seating. Octopussing over the back rows, enjoying all the space that I was not sharing with the tightly packed rows below. I couldn’t help but feel that we might all have relaxed into Francechild’s razor sharp comedy if everyone else had been less constrained. But then as Matthew Thomson, as Stuart the nurse shows, asylums do tend to be more fun if you aren’t the one in the straitjacket.

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 15 May)

Visit Takin’ Over the Asylum‘s homepage here.