Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Key Game

Pat Cumper
Talawa Theatre Company at the Riverside Studios
(2002)

Care in the community is an issue that will always cause controversy. The Key Game, produced by Talawa, may be set in a psychiatric hospital in Jamaica but the problems that it addresses are universal. It borrows themes from One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and also Nell Dunn's Steaming and uses them to give an impression of the patients' lives and the reasons for their predicament.

Ward 11 contains three patients and their very sympathetic nurse, Norman. While life in an institution may not be much fun, the thought of leaving is infinitely worse. This is why the patients are happy losers in the Key Game. This is a chance for Jim Findley's Norman to play the bullfighter, tantalising his charges with glimpses of the keys to the cell and freedom outside. When the government decides to rase the hospital and release the patients it is time for them all to face reality.

Sylvano Clarke plays Dappo, a violent man who hears voices but blocks out worse. Marc Matthews is the toothless old Gonzales whose wisdom appears from within his madness. Finally there is the superb Kevin Harvey as the fastidious Shakespeare, a man who, in a caring society, should never have been in an institution.

While the characters may not be wholly developed as they go out of their way to serve the playwright's agenda, they are very sympathetic, fighting and supporting each other in equal measure. They are a fair cross-section of the vulnerable in society; in their own words, the schizophenic, the obsessive/(not) compulsive and the sad old man.

As the play develops, we find out what the men are escaping and see glimpses of sanity as well as madness. The sanity tends to fit the plot too conveniently but the characters are so charming that this doesn't really matter.

The four actors play very well together, giving good performances for director, Karena Johnson. They work hard to ensure that the drama and pain is leavened by humour. A word of praise too for designer, Libby Watson whose simple, effective hospital ward set brings down the final curtain with a bang.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher