Theatre review: Takin Over the Asylum, Lyceum Theatre

TAKIN Over the Asylum is set in a mental hospital in the west of Scotland.

TAKIN Over the Asylum is set in a mental hospital in the west of Scotland.

Takin Over the Asylum, Lyceum Theatre

* * *

A new hospital radio DJ is brought in to raise the morale of the patients, but ends up arguably belonging with them. The DJ, Eddie, has nothing to hand other than some 60s soul vinyl and, at its best, this is the theatrical equivalent of good soul music.

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The original six-part TV version aired in the 1990s, featuring Ken Stott and David Tennant, among others. It was written by Donna Franceschild, who also adapted it to the stage. It is, as she says, a tragedy with jokes, and a lot of them are very good.

There are several excellent performances from a strong cast, a nice set and some touching reflections on what might be considered sane or otherwise in individuals and institutions. There’s maybe a little too much going on in the adaptation, with some characters forced into some wordy extemporisation early on and, while Iain Robertson and Helen Mallon are individually grand as Eddie and Francine, the emotional core of their fledgling romance doesn’t quite work.

The supporting ensemble does a very fine job. Brian Vernel as Eddie’s manic protege carries on from a similarly edgy place in last year’s Static and particular credit should go to Grant O’Rourke’s Fergus and Caroline Paterson’s Rosalie as sympathetic characters with rich strands of genius, comedy and tragedy.

The flaws of the mental institution are laid bare and occasionally on with a trowel – there is no positive aspect given to anyone on the care side.

Theatrically, of course, the flaws of those characters stand for those of the institutions and of society at large, but that black and white characterisation is perhaps not all that helpful a message in the current climate.

The signature line of the play is “we are loonies, we are proud”. Another working tagline might be “Wan flew over the cuckoo’s nest” – there are some parallels with that classic movie, although it may need further adapted to be as challenging.

In any event, there is a good deal of lunacy, some involving, some affecting, some very amusing. It is worth seeing, and very well worth thinking about.

• Run ends April 6.