The phrase hidden gem is thrown around a lot these days, but it adequately describes The Blue Elephant Theatre. Just a ten minute walk in a straight line from Oval station, it’s a stone’s throw from quintessential cosmo london, where The Oval’s royal facade, Boris’s super cycle-way, views of the Shard and labyrinthine council estates all meet. It’s in the middle of the latter that we find the Blue Elephant. In this well-loved community driven theatre with the comfiest seats you are likely to encounter in any London fringe theatre, I settled in to watch ‘Rounds’.
The play is a slice of life drama about life for junior doctors in Hunt’s NHS. Its ensemble cast of six F1 doctors aims to paint a picture that covers all spectrums of life on the wards, and cover a lot it does: The fundamental trials of being new, substance abuse, mental health, juggling relationships to name but a few. The script, built around anecdotes from current junior doctors, is excellent. The theme is treated with great authenticity and urgency and lifts the subject matter above the feigned controversy that we have seen so much of in the press for the last two years. Watching ‘Rounds’ almost feels like watching somebody you know, a friend from uni or a colleague’s son or daughter; someone whose career is often a talking point but is difficult to actually imagine.
The ensemble vignette structure also achieves this to an extent, but a lack of balance means some storylines border on the edge of tedium. An arc about one doctor’s struggle with her own mental health was well written and well performed, but one too many long solo scenes and an oddly placed monologue diverted from the power of the material. On the other hand, some storylines aren’t fleshed out enough. The villain of the piece in the form of an entitled public school boy came across a little 2D, and an interesting but shoed-in institutional racism thread left me dying to hear more.
The structure does allow the play to be unconventional however, and a couple of expressive dance sequences and a hammed up musical opening number offered some of the sharpest and most moving moments of the play. There’s also some ingenious staging, the highlight being the cat scene, which had the entire audience in stitches, but at the other moments it became a little distracting. The comedic turns were all well received, and the equilibrium of light and dark content was there, which itself is an achievement in a poignant and honest portrayal of reality for our Junior Doctors on the front line of our buckling NHS.