A PATIENT TO TRY PATIENCE
It must be challenging to play a psychiatrist at work , maybe especially in Finsbury Park where there are bound to be a few in the audience. You have to convince : catch the silences, the questioning , and in responding to your client the professional detachment from their powerful ability to generate mental storms. Jon Osbaldeston does a very convincing job as Dr Greenberg, so respect for that; equally adept in Nicolas Billon’s odd, intimate 75-minute play is Gwithian Evans as the patient, Michael. He’s adolescent, impertinent, dead-eyed and pale and as the Nurse says, he is likely to play mind -games with staff. The portrayal is of a young man both intensely dislikeable and palpably damaged; as a performance it is admirable but not enjoyable. For Michael’s desire to cause unease and irritation succeeds too well.
Therefore a slight problem for the actual audience is that by the point, an hour in, when we are designed to get some understanding of all his talk about a dead elephant shot by his Dad and an opera singing neglectful mother, the risk is that we don’t care enough about him. Not Mr Evans’ fault: even if Mark Rylance or Hugh Grant was playing him he couldn’t be likeable with this text.
Anyway, Michael is an inpatient and Dr Greenberg the Director of the hospital. The psychiatrist is trying to find out why a colleague has vanished and is uncontactable ever since his last session with the lad. We sort of get an answer, after a great deal of quite tedious lying and hints about sex scandals in mental institutions. We certainly get a lethal final moment. But alas, by then both sympathy and credibility are gone. It’s a shame, given the quality of acting and atmospheric use of the set, especially the metronome. Billon has had this odd piece filmed and won plaudits, and the writing is sharp at times. But it neither teaches nor entertains. Which is really unusual for this terrific little theatre.
parktheatre.co.uk to 11 Feb