Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Ward No 6
Venue: C Cubed
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
Chekhov wrote short stories as well as plays, and generally preferred his prose – which had greater critical acclaim in his lifetime. DogOrange have combined the two by staging a short story, which is more compelling and involving than some of Chekhov’s plays. Staged fairly simply in C Cubed, ‘Ward No 6’ tells a tale of madness and ambition in nineteenth century Russia which sees Dr. Ragin reduced to the level of a patient while his rival takes over his job.
Four people sit around the stage, being mad. Their faces are white, their asylum gowns are white. There’s definitely something odd going on. They start whimpering, giggling and scampering about. Soon, there’s some kind of Occult ritual going on, and one of them is declared to be Dr. Ragin. We see him as the newly-arrived doctor at this Russian hospital, bogged down in feelings of hopelessness as he sees countless patients he knows he can’t help in any meaningful way. It all starts to feel horribly modern, rather like an NHS struggling to satisfy all the demands made upon it. Predictably, Ragin becomes more and more like the lunatic patients that so fascinate him, until he’s taking holidays for his health and having his work done by other people.
Four lunatics take the stage for an hour, each showing us a slightly different madness. Charlotte Blake’s Marushka is hyperactive and giggly, always moving and jiggling. Ben Galpin’s Gromov is a bit of a cynic, aggresive and bitter. He also plays a suave, dangerous villain in Hobotov, the rival who eventually replaces Ragin at the hospital. Harry Lobek – the face on the posters – plays Ragin, the doctor who has more interest in philosophy than science and spends too long thinking about life, the universe and everything. So long that he goes mad. But Michael Linsey is the one to watch: understated as a loner madman, endearing yet suspect as Ragin’s friend and brilliantly brutal as the ward guard. Linsey’s mad Petya is an especial delight, demonstrating the madness of a man lost in his own world, none of the stage hysterics or tics of the others.
Like I say, it’s a lot more compelling than you’d expect Chekhov to be. That’s partly because of the unhinged atmosphere the cast build up – it’s both slightly creepy and slightly odd. Rather than merely building a mood, they explore and play with the unhinged nature of their play. The dance and music sections are crucial to that, and the music is really suitable for the piece. It’s an unnerving experience, with hints of the Occult and of something more humanly sinister at work under the surface.