Review: THE CLINIC, Almeida Theatre

Dipo Baruwa-Etti's new play lacks breathing room for its themes

By: Sep. 13, 2022
Review: THE CLINIC, Almeida Theatre
Review: THE CLINIC, Almeida Theatre There is a very interesting play somewhere in The Clinic. But a lack of focus and clunky direction means you'll be hard pressed to find it. Dipo Baruwa-Etti has crafted a concoction of issues relating to race, class, and the healthcare system. But with so many ideas and arguments crammed in, the result is a melodrama without breathing room to let its ideas flourish.

Baruwa-Etti's new play unfolds like a cross between Parasite and Get Out. Wunmi, a mentally unstable working-class black woman, who believes her husband died due to racially motivated medical negligence, invades and establishes herself as an adopted member of a wealthy black family. At first her presence is welcomed because her suffering can be fetishised. But the tables turn as she wheedles her way deeper and deeper. Soon everyone's hands are dirty.

The themes revolve around the central intersection of class viewed through the lens of Black identity. The family are bourgeois; their house is washed in John Lewis chic with navy blue surfaces, a wine rack and glass table. The father is a psychologist turned self-help book writer. His wife Tiwa lounges around in expensive-looking clothes.

Tiwa is the most interesting character. She is essentially a bored housewife who believes naively that her psychology degree grants her the authority to literally patronise Wunmi. Only mere snippets of her inner anxiety appear because she is crowded out by the other characters who are quick to pontificate about the play's themes.

Ore, the family's daughter training to be a doctor, rails against institutions like the NHS and the police, of which her brother Bayo is a member. The latter is also dating a Labour MP and has to contend with accusations of being a traitor to the Black community. Acidic clashes and aggrieved arguments ensue.

There is not much subtlety or nuance in the writing, yet the production wants to masquerade as naturalistic. The resulting pace flows like a broken tap; either characters quarrel over each other resulting in cumbersome atonal outpourings, or the opposite happens. More conversational scenes are noticeably clunky and awkwardly delivered. Individual performances are strong, but the ensemble never finds the much-needed chemistry to ground the play's uncanny aspects.

The fundamental issue is that the whole thing is too content to tell rather than show. Instead of letting the audience infer how characters feel, they simply tell us. This problem plagues the direction too. Take the egregiously conspicuous fire effect used to accent an emotional outburst; more jarring than dramatic.

The Clinic explores some fascinating ideas, it's a shame their execution is too melodramatic to have any real theatrical bite.

The Clinic runs at The Almedia Theatre until 1 October

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner