Review: THE SOBCENTRE, Jack Studio Theatre

Experimental production set in a isolated clinic fails to add up to a coherent work

By: Mar. 01, 2024
Review: THE SOBCENTRE, Jack Studio Theatre
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We’re in an antiseptic environment in which a person has recovered from a coma and has no memory, no identification and nobody to vouch for them. They are questioned by what appears to be a psychiatrist, but he refuses to give information beyond his name. A strangely robotic assistant is at hand to fetch crisps. 

We learn that this is indeed the titular Sobcentre, an experimental clinic that has echoes of both The Village in The Prisoner and Nurse Ratched’s ward in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Both of those celebrated works were explicitly allegorical, products of Cold War paranoia and, with tensions high between Russia and The West and increasingly authoritarian politics gaining ground in democracies, I looked forward to a sharp satire delivered in a punchy 65 minutes. 

Review: THE SOBCENTRE, Jack Studio Theatre

It didn’t work out that way. Despite being in development since 2020 (was it all an allegory for lockdown maybe?) this reviewer found a point of view, a consistent narrative or a message impossible to discern. 

Grasping for something to hold on to, I found another parallel. As Jon (the patient) regains slivers of his memory and mixes more with the clinicians and other patients, there is a growing sense that, like Yossarian in Catch 22, he is the only sane man in the place. But that didn’t quite work either.

The ensemble cast do what they can with characters that develop only as platforms for rants about the hard time they’re having, as the narrative wanders and loops back on itself. 

Kate Crisp captures Jon’s initial bemusement and then comfort in the knowledge that his handyman skills can keep him in an environment he quite enjoys. Amelia Paltridge issues a tirade about the challenges of managing an ill-funded health facility of a kind that you can hear on almost any radio phone-in, Alexander Holley’s Desmond has a quick temper, but seems good in his heart and Imogen King is Jon’s late arriving lover, Melissa, of whom I’m afraid I could make nothing.

Tathata Theatre and writer, Guy Woods, are young and show real boldness in putting on an experimental production like this in February 2024 and it is also to the credit of the Jack Studio Theatre that they staged it. So it pains me to write a discouraging review, but the play, despite its four years’ gestation, feels like a work-in-progress, the seeds of a coherent narrative, fully formed characters and a standpoint all requiring more care before the production is ready to bring to a live audience. In that sense, it must count as a missed opportunity - but perhaps not worthy of too many sobs, as there are ideas and innovation on display, just not underpinned by the robust structure even an avant garde work demands.   

The Sobcentre at the Jack Studio Theatre until 2 March 

Photo Credit: Jessy Winchester

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