By giving the inmates of the fictional St Jude’s psychiatric hospital an opportunity to have their voices heard, Donna Franceschild’s Takin’ Over The Asylum broadcasts not only the plight of those in care, but also airs the humour to be found in what some might think to be the bleakest of situations.
A co-production with Citizens Theatre, this is Franceschild’s theatrical adaptation of her successful TV script. In the able hands of the Lyceum’s Mark Thomson, all of its poignant humour and relevance is retained, in a hugely enjoyable ensemble production which — like its soul music soundtrack — is accomplished, memorable and instantly accessible.
‘Steady’ Eddie (Iain Robertson) has one last chance of realising his dream of being a professional DJ. Juggling his window salesman job with the opportunity of bringing some musical relief to the patients of St Jude’s, he accepts the post of hospital radio disc jockey. Quickly finding affinity with the patients — especially the enthusiastically manic Campbell (Brian Vernel) and the damaged self-harming Francine (Helen Mallon) — he slowly turns them away from the catatonic glare of the television and towards the more positive vibes of his radio show. Soon, the show gives hope and purpose to the ‘loonies’ and, in the process, Eddie realises where his true priorities and passions lie.
Performances by the ten-strong cast in Takin’ Over The Asylum are excellent. Robertson’s shabby hangdog portrayal of Eddie provides a sympathetic centre; and Vernel dominates Alex Lowde’s well-designed set everytime he gallops onto it, with an effusive energy that is impossible to dislike. Mallon’s understated turn as the slowly-mending Francine is the opposite: a poignant presence of sad calm which she portrays excellently. And, although the 2-hour script gives dominance to these three, Caroline Paterson’s portrayal of germ-battling Rosalie and Grant O’Rourke’s depiction of quiet schizophrenic genius Fergus are also highlights.
It is testament to the skill of the actors and also to Franceschild’s balanced script that things never even steer close to exploitation. Instead, the production successfully portrays believable and identifiable characters, who just happen to be spending a while behind locked doors. By using humour so well, it also helps get across the piece’s more serious points and theme, without having to resort to patronising preaching.
Takin’ Over The Asylum is a perfect balance of poignancy and brilliantly-observed humour, allowing its message to be heard loud and clear: that, no matter what walls may separate us, holding on to hope is the most important thing in the world.
Takin’ Over The Asylum runs until 6 April. More information is available at the Lyceum website.