Show: Under The Mask
Location: Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool
Date: Thursday July 8 2021
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Age Rating: 14+
Performers: Aysha Kala, Stacy Abalogun, Neil D’Souza, Amerjit Deu, Lourdes Faberes & Balvinder Sopal
Production Companies: Tamasha & Oxford Playhouse
Writer: Shaan Sahota
Director: Sita Thomas
Under The Mask
Back in March 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic would begin. Therefore, hundreds of final year medical students would finish studying early to work on the frontline immediately. And this show tells the story of one of those student nurses, a newly qualifiable doctor, Jaskaran. Right from the start, she works at the hospital’s Covid Intensive Care Unit, with the reality hitting her quickly. From tons of intubated patients to blisters from wearing full PPE for 12 hours, it’s difficult to comprehend. And that’s before you consider relatives crying as they say goodbye via Skype.
Indeed, the brutal reality of Covid-19 is on show, partly due to the use of sounds from actual Covid wards. Understandably, Jaskaran struggles with first-hand exposure of how badly Covid-19 victims are suffering and the overwhelming of the NHS as a whole. Not helping her cause is how both patients and colleagues dismiss her abilities to serve as a junior doctor. Indeed, these range from expressions of mild surprise to outright insults, some of which sadly has a racist tone. All while learning on the job during a high-pressure situation that neither she nor anyone else could truly prepare for. But the same advice from Doctor Verdi comes to mind: “How will you live with yourself if you walk away?”
Before getting onto my thoughts about the show, let’s talk about its format. For this is a uniquely immersive experience that essentially turns the audience into background characters. That’s because attendees can listen through headphones to hear what Jaskaran, her colleagues, her father and patients are saying. And due to the effective use and occasional dimming of lights, it’s hard not to feel like we’re in Jaskaran’s shoes. Furthermore, this allows attendees to experience what life was and remains like during the pandemic as a medical doctor. And to say that the sounds of the pandemic on the front-line of the NHS are borrowing is a vast understatement.
Indeed, over the past 16 months, everyone has their own stories to tell about the hardship of life during the pandemic. But this show urges you to consider how life is as one of the heroes risking their own lives to save others. And especially when we hear about the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ICU beds at the very beginning. Plus, even Doctor Verdi emphasises the uncertainty and learning to handle the virus would change by the day, if not by the hour. For instance, Jaskaran struggles with immediately disposing of all PPE and not being able to touch her face. And all for a junior doctor who is still learning the ropes during a global health crisis.
It’s eye-opening, occasionally eye-watering, and also thought-provoking. A positive moment comes from the strong praise she receives when out shopping from those respecting the virus and acknowledging her heroic efforts. For when we reflect in years to come on the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s the health workers that deserve the greatest praise. After all, the death toll could be far, far higher if not for the unimaginable efforts of doctors and nurses worldwide.
Due to its format, I would describe this show as a must-hear, and it’s incredibly emotional but also thoroughly gripping. Far from guesswork, this show utilises real hospital ward audio to present the grim reality of the pandemic. And though healthcare workers may wish to avoid bad memories, they would likely want us all to hear this story. Because only by being privy to this can anyone begin to understand how real this horrific virus really is. And this is merely a snapshot of months of enormous struggle, from avoiding relatives to seeing victims with no hope.
I also find it fascinating to attend this production at a time when the UK is about to fully reopen. My hopes are that the worst is behind us, with only occasional mask-wearing, minor restrictions and booster jabs in our future. But for those who wish to recklessly move forward, Under The Mask should be a mandatory attendance. Because by listening to this show, you can truly appreciate the pandemic at its harshest and most unrelenting. To be fair, some may struggle to handle the emotional toll of this audio experience. But for those attendees who can, I can’t recommend this highly enough as a phenomenally accurate reflection of the pandemic.
Target Audience: 14+
Content: Some Strong Language, Infrequent Discriminatory Language
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding
Under The Mask Further Links
Under The Mask runs at the Playhouse Theatre until Saturday July 10 2021. So, to purchase tickets, please click here.
For more information about this show, click here.
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