Anna (Jasmine Blackborow) is nursing a broken nose. She’s tired, overworked and has been hit by a member of the public. David (Lewis Shepherd), dressed as a leprechaun, is drunk. He’s clumsily apologising for the attack carried out on Anna by his brother-in-law, who is also drunk and overreacted when Anna tried to treat him. It’s okay though, because he promises her he’ll give her excellent feedback online… Anna is a junior doctor in A&E and this opening exchange between the two characters epitomizes the contradictory relationship the British public has with the NHS: we love it, will clap for the staff and publicly support them, whilst seeking treatment for self-inflicted injuries, often drunk or under the influence of other substances. We’ll abuse the staff, certainly verbally and sometimes physically.
Super High Resolution focuses on Anna, who is spectacularly overworked and under cared for. Experiencing the most extreme mental pressure, she works excessive hours with minimal notice, whilst being criticised by her sister for missing family events. She has no control over her life, with the result that she has no friends. It’s not a well-paid job and there’s no overtime. Any prospect of promotion is years away. And yet she can‘t consider leaving: after all it’s an honour to be a doctor isn’t it? She’s spent years working towards this point. Her family are proud of her and her sister even wants her to persuade her niece to go into the profession.
The first half is fast-paced with rapid, comically dark dialogue, but as Anna’s personal and professional life falls apart so does her mental health. Blackborow is outstanding in the titular role: she encapsulates the torpidity resulting from her powerlessness to manage her own existence, and there is a sense of inevitability of plot in the later stages of the performance. The lighting changes, the energy drops and at a critical point there is complete blackout with a soundtrack of beeping noises and rumbles. A visceral and deeply disturbing immersive experience, it undoubtedly lasted for less time than it felt. And what is clever is despite the inevitability of plot development, the audience does not know how the story is going to end. Redemption is not obvious.
The set by designer Andrew D Edwards is accomplished. Consisting mainly of hospital cubicle curtains, unique performance spaces for each section are created by the performers simply opening and shutting the curtains themselves, whilst reflecting the transactional and swift nature of hospital appointments. Lighting Designer Prema Mehta has similarly created some lovely moments. In designing an imposing shadow for a moment of relationship development between Anna and David, the monochromatic result is quite startling and allows for a pause in the ceaseless hospital life.
The change in tone in the two halves is clever and essential in making this piece resonate. Too much comedy would have been brittle and trite; too many maudlin undertones would have created a caricature, although I do think the first half would benefit from a slight edit.
Super High Resolution is fundamentally a play for our time; thought-provoking and moving. Mental health and wellbeing are top of many public agendas and yet the people responsible for caring for us are being exploited and underfunded with no regard to their own mental health. How much do you give of yourself in the guise of caring, and to what end? It’s hard to predict who the Secretary of State for Health will be when you read this, but whoever it is, they should watch this play.
Written by: Nathan Ellis
Directed by: Blanche McIntyre
Associate Producer: Eve Allin
Set and Costume Design by: Andrew D Edwards
Lighting Design by: Prema Mehta
Super High Resolution plays at Soho Theatre until 3 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.