In March and April last year, hospitals started filling up with people who had come down with coronavirus (covid) and no one had much idea of what they were dealing with…
By Suman Bhuchar
AS YOU ENTER the theatre you remember the clap for carers on a Thursday night during lockdown, but how many of us thought beyond that into the daily grind experienced by NHS workers as they cared for covid patients at little thought to their own life.
‘Under the Mask’, a Tamasha and Oxford Playhouse co-production, written by Shaan Sahota and directed by Sita Thomas, is based on the writer’s own experience as a junior doctor and the show is a visceral aural audio experience.
The audience is transported right into a medic’s first day as a trained doctor deployed into a Covid Intensive Care Unit at a time when no one knows what’s happening, except that life could be dangerous.
Jaskaran (voiced by Aysha Kala) is overcome and out of her depth, you can feel the urgency especially as some of the scenes were recorded in the hospital, and together with the sound design by Farokh Soltani (including the ventilators and alarms) provides an intense, immersive sensory experience.
As you listen, you are eavesdropping on the conversations in the hospital peppered with medical jargon as consultant, Dr Virdee (Neil D’Souza) outlines protocols and discusses a patient’s medical history, while Jaskaran learns to navigate her way around with the help of experienced doctor, Chidera (Stacy Abalogun) and Jaskaran tries not to feel.
She has to isolate herself when she gets back home and there are poignant moments with her family “Dr Singh let me give you a hug”, says her father, and she has to back away with a “No”.
As a newly qualified junior doctor, she gets close to her patients and their families and gets emotionally involved — Mr O’Connell wants a ‘white doctor’ while Mr Hunter thinks she’s “too young to be a doctor”.
Mrs Kumar (Balvinder Sopal) wants to bring in some tasbih prayer beads for her husband, and such conversations bring home the reality of the Pandemic and the suffering experienced by families and those who cared for them.
Jaskaran has her Sikh faith but finds herself challenged in the face of such adversity and asks Dr Virdee how does one keep going?
He reminds her of the story of Bhai Kanhaiya (a disciple of the Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, the 9th Guru in the Sikh faith), known for offering water to wounded soldiers on the battlefield, no matter what side they were from and who believed that “Everywhere I look, I just see God”.
This is visceral, intense and immersive theatre at its best.
ACV star rating: **** (out of five)
‘Under the Mask’ until Sunday, July 25 at The Rose Theatre Kingston, 24-26 High Street, Kingston KT1 1HL
(It’s on Fri/sat/Sun and there are two performances daily – running time 60 mins and age suitability 14+)
Interview with playwright Shaan Sahota – http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/under-the-mask-doctor-playwright-shaan-sahota-on-her-hope-and-horror-covid-ward-drama/
Tamasha company is seeking a new Artistic Director and closing date for applications is 6pm August 10 – https://tamasha.org.uk/jobs/