The Institute

Mon 13th – Sun 19th August 2012

reviews

Thomas Stell

at 17:53 on 14th Aug 2012

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The institute of the title is an experiment in treating mental illness. To relieve patients from the effects of past traumas, nurses force them to repeat those experiences. We see them acting out an attempted throttling, then simulating a car crash. The audience follows those receiving this treatment, together with two male nurses (Tom and Sam) as well as - outside the hospital - a paramedic (Ben) who himself suffers because of what he has seen at his work, a friend of his, and Ben’s girlfriend, Daisy.

But to describe the play’s story in these terms is perhaps misleading. The way the institute works becomes clear only gradually, and what we are presented with is a set of short scenes, connected by themes of medicine and mental pain. It affects us because of the horror of the things we see, and because of the characters’ reactions to these things. Ben is slowly destroyed by the memory of a young girl whose life he could not save, his relationship with Daisy weakening too. The lively presentation of their happiness, their joking around (there are some very good comic lines by the way) had previously stood against the darkness of the rest of the play.

Aled Bidder plays the paramedic thoughtfully and sympathetically and the same may be said of Alex Mann and Josh Day as Tom and Sam. They, and indeed the rest of the cast, all do very well. The friendships between various of the characters are portrayed movingly, even when allowed to become tongue-in-cheek, as when Tom and Sam sing 'Close Your Eyes My Dear' for respite from the difficulties of their work.

The play isn’t without imperfections – in places it is a little too didactic, when for example we are told outright that post-traumatic stress disorder is a disease like any physical one, but for the most part the writing is subtler than that, and the general effect is certainly not that of preaching. For a free event, 'The Institute' is really very good, and though its subject is not happy, it distinguishes itself from most fashionably gloomy Fringe theatre by showing us some little hope, and moments of human warmth.

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Jessica Reid

at 22:38 on 14th Aug 2012

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'The Institute' is an intriguing play exploring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: what causes it, who gets it and how it can be cured.

The work revolves around a set of characters linked by their relationship with a facility which cures PTSD. The institute in question does this by forcing its sufferers to relive the cause of the trauma again and again. It is horrific to watch the characters being made to revisit car accidents and domestic violence, and to then hear references to the treatment of other even more gruesome incidents like sexual assault and miscarriages. The constructed traumatic events are incredibly violent and brutal. It is uncomfortable and painful to watch yet strangely mesmerising. These re-enactments are also the most polished sections of the play, especially when in slow motion with voiceovers played over the top.

The cast is somewhat mixed in terms of confidence and, perhaps, ability. Lizzie Fitzpatrick was brilliantly convincing as Sophie and Chelsey Gillard gave the highest levels of energy and fervour. Aled Bidder was occasionally wonderful as Ben although he did have a tendency to mumble. Josh Day definitely had the most developed and interesting character to play and did so with conviction. 'The Institute' generally has a problem with energy levels and is inclined to become a bit flat atmospherically. This is a shame as the script and the characters are strong, they just need to be performed with more passion.

A highlight of the show is the beautiful serenading of the patients by the guilt-ridden givers of the treatment (reminiscent of 'Girl, Interrupted'). Day and Alex Mann sing and play the guitar; it is poignant and slightly comic. It is also a moment of serenity in a very hard-hitting show.

I was certainly impressed by 'The Institute'. If all the performers were to give 100% all of the time, perhaps by having greater confidence in the script and in their production, this would bring it up to a 4 star show. As it is, 'The Institute' is part of the PBH Free Fringe so there really is no reason not to see this very engaging play.

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