Published in the Guardian
Citizens, Glasgow/Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh co-production
WE'RE in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest territory – but instead of Jack Nicholson finding method in the madness, here we have Eddie, a hospital radio DJ, discovering the insanity of the psychiatric system.
Every chance the residents get for therapeutic self-help – be it petting kittens, cleaning windows or letting their voice be heard on the station – is quashed by a system more concerned with budgets, health-and-safety rules and bureaucratic efficiencies. Takin' Over the Asylum doesn't have the revolutionary fervour of Cuckoo's Nest, but its heart is in the same place.
More touchingly, it illustrates the fragility of the human psyche. Franceschild shows how much behaviour is explicable in social as well as medical terms. Like the alcoholism of the supposedly sane DJ, the patients' self-harming and obsessive cleaning are symptoms of life experiences. Behind Franceschild's brash, confrontational jokes is a plea for understanding of the damage done by circumstance.
If there's a weakness, it's that the stakes rarely feel high enough. The show is funny and sad, but the story fights shy of the extremes of comedy and tragedy. Mark Thomson's Citz/Lyceum co-production, however, is blessed with a strong ensemble cast, including lively performances from Iain Robertson as the downtrodden DJ and Brian Vernel as his hyperactive sidekick Campbell.
© Mark Fisher, 2013
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