There is a risk that comes with being vulnerable. Like surgery, it opens up the insides. It can be probing, uncomfortable, painful, and it requires a courageous amount of honesty. But it also comes with the possibility of healing. We hope that after scalpel and knife there will be recovery.
In Resuscitate Theatre’s Rounds, that risk is deemed too dangerous for six junior doctors. Inspired by real conversations, the devised script winds its way through hospital corridors as each doctor deals with the stress of their responsibilities and their fears of inadequacy. Prejudices in the industry hurt or help, and national stigma, language, class, and sexism are aptly recognised as side-effects of providing care.
Director Anna Marshall uses a fluidity of movement to reflect the rounds of a doctor, shifting from home to hospital with barely any recognition of surroundings. The ensemble work cohesively to develop a frantic energy through group movement even as tensions arise between them. The company also makes creative use of frames on wheels. They symbolise the never-ending hoops junior doctors jump through, the literal doors they constantly encounter, and the alienation that arises from the constant pressure of being all-knowing.
Each character finds a different coping strategy. Dr Clarke (Roxanne Brown) escapes with after-hours partying, while Dr Poretti (Davide Vox) takes every opportunity to step outside and have a cigarette. Dr Cavendish (Iain Gibbons) and Dr Collins (Tamara Saffir) find comfort in each other. But it’s Dr Wright (Penny Rodie) who finds it hardest to stay afloat. Her experience is directly contrasted with the pragmatic Dr Jenkins (Adam Deane) who has chosen to be a doctor because it’s lucrative and he’s good at it, who outlasts by remaining uncaring.
Occasionally the typified characters feel underdeveloped, and there are times when the movement causes more problems than it’s worth, with a few of the frames tripping up the actors. The ending however hits hard when Dr Jenkins is exonerated for his neglect. In her final consultation, an emotionally exhausted Dr Collins turns stony to an imagined interviewer and retorts, ‘Can I get back to work please?’
And that is the uneasy diagnosis Resuscitate makes: being uncaring is the only way to survive as a doctor. There is no hope of healing, and no risk worth taking. Vulnerability here equates to weakness. Not only is this alarming, it is also dangerous. Choosing to ignore instead of to question, to be headstrong instead of to reflect, leads to an inability to actively learn from colleagues or your experience. Learning requires vulnerability.
As part of the debate surrounding the seven-day NHS, Jeremy Hunt, and the junior doctor strikes, Rounds does not merely voice the complexities of being a junior doctor today. More than that, it reminds us that the system at hand currently punishes those who question policy, who question the safety of their patients, and who acknowledge their own limitations. Rounds is a lesson in vulnerability; without vulnerability we will never learn and we will never recover.