Adapted from the successful television series, Takin’ Over the Asylum is an intriguing addition to both the Citizens and Lyceum theatres’ seasons. Unashamedly populist, it shifts away from both venues’ usual programme of updated classics, and is played for laughs despite the occasional tragic element.
The constantly changing focus of the plot reflects the script’s origin as a serial - the conflicts between patients, staff and the ageing DJ, who offers them hope through his enthusiasm for soul music, take turns to drive the action. Mark Thomson’s direction contains the episodic narrative through sharp pacing. While the ensemble cast is consistently strong, Iain Robertson’s DJ Eddie and Brian Vernel’s manic Campbell successfully set the energetic tone.
The representation of mental illness is sentimental: the chants of lunatic pride, the battles with brutal nurse Stuart - his menace perfectly captured by Martin McCormick - and the association of long-term psychiatric conditions with specific trauma do not build a convincing vision of life in an institution, but the emphasis is on the triumph of the good-hearted and the fun. Grant O’Rourke gets to steal scenes as the quiet technical genius Fergus, but his spectacular escape attempts are given far more time than his tragic suicide.
Donna Franceshild’s script is full of broad humour, and the characters are sympathetic - it is a mark of the cast’s talent that the moments of sadness are briefly as emphatic as the comedy. Takin’ Over the Asylum is a grand entertainment that downplays the more serious side of mental illness.