‘Takin’ Over The Asylum’ (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) | Review by Rebecca Donati

Donna Franceschild’s Takin’ Over the Asylum is known for the original 1994 BAFTA winning series with the beloved characters etched into our brains as they were. The series was adapted into this delightfully charming play for the Citizens and Lyceum Theatre in 2013. Directed once again by the brilliant Mark Thomson, this production is being brought back to life by the third year BA Acting students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Our ever evolving nature means that societies attitude and understanding towards mental health as a whole is worlds apart, not only from the original award winning series but even the 2013 theatre adaptation. Following the pandemic and the serious nature of the current world we live in, the themes of this play feel prevalent and necessary. Afterall, understanding is key. 

Adapted for the stage by the author, Takin’ Over the Asylum is a hilarious, updated and profoundly moving adaptation of Donna Franceschild’s Bafta-winning BBC TV-series. Set in a Scottish mental institution, the play reveals hope and joy in the fragile beauty of the human heart. When Ready Eddie McKenna, Soul Survivor and double glazing salesman, arrives to reinvigorate St Jude’s defunct hospital radio station he turns more than the ramshackle station upside down. The whisky drinking would-be DJ meets the 19-year-old bipolar Campbell, schizophrenic electronic genius Fergus, OCD Rosalie and the elusive self-harming Francine. Fighting against illness and perception Eddie and the patients of St Jude’s strive for their dreams to be accepted.

Yannaghas played a soulfulness in Eddie and portrayed a naturalistic calming presence on stage. He skillfully balanced his energy levels when performing.Going from your typical loud energetic radio host to a more subdued every day Eddie. Yannaghas had a very well rounded tone to his voice which allowed the audience to tune in and really listen to the delivery of each line. To improve his portrayal of Eddie Yannaghas could find a stronger balance when it comes to delivering emotional intensity which could perhaps come from further developing his character relationship with Francine. An overall really enjoyable, mature depiction of Eddie.

Michael McCardie has wonderful energy, entrancing the audience. Campbell is the driving force of the narrative. McCardies fast paced Glaswegian accent lent well to the language of the script. His articulation was crisp and allowed the audience to catch every joke, lapping him up. McCardie suited the part well and came across with brilliant stage presence. There were moments that Campbell could have been ramped up slightly – however the piece as a whole had a calm and collected aura around it and perhaps this lent into it. 

Mary Jensik played a strong Francine. She nailed the emotional development of the character and allowed the depth of Francine to shine, slowly revealing her story to the audience. Mary had the difficult task of portraying a broad Scottish accent, despite the amount of effort you could feel had been put into this unfortunately at times the accent slipped, removing the audience from the world of the story. 

Brooke Walker was a captivating Rosalie. Walker brought emotional maturity to this role, handling sensitive topics with grace. Walker is a natural storyteller, the audience was hooked on her every word. Rosalie was a fully realised character and Walker showed excellent comedic timing. I would urge Walker to not be afraid to shine in the more serious moments, to enjoy them and take her time delivering hard hitting lines. 

Rosie Hart played Evelyn exactly as you want to see her. Hart had brilliant energy throughout the play and the atmosphere changed when she entered on to the stage. She did well in being authoritative and has great vocal control.

Henry Dolgoff was a heartwarming Fergus. Dolgoff’s inflections and intonation drove his comedic lines well. The audience couldn’t wait to see what Fergus had arrived with, how he had escaped and what would happen in his future. He had a wonderful tone of voice, soothing to the ear.

Jade Sylvester gave a masterclass in “acting is reacting”! Despite not having a huge role within the play the audience had their eyes locked to see how Aileen would react to the mayhem unfolding around her. Her energy was sustained throughout and her facial expressions were hilarious. 

Katya Searle was thoroughly entertaining as Margaret. She was the dancing queen, making everyone laugh with her kooky reactions and moves. 

Brian James McKigen did well at bringing an eerie presence to the stage, highlighting the abuse and injustice that many face in the hands of care. He successfully portrayed the best stage fight version of a “Glasgow Kiss” that I have personally seen in theatre. For development purposes the character can be slightly one dimensional and there are moments where Stuart can be softer. 

Reno Cole was hilariously charming as Hector. Cole is a phenomenal physical actor – connected to his body from head to toe. Cole used every muscle to portray heightened movements which had the audience in stitches. Caitlin Forbes played the nurse well, walking with purpose and giving a sense of feeling a real duty to care. 

Mark Thomson is no stranger to this production and has once again given the audience a wonderful piece of theatre which allows you to reflect and enjoy. Following the pandemic this production feels relevant and fitting. The set and costume by Lasse Fischer were spot on. The set made you feel like you were in the hospital with spectacular detail such as no harmful pins on the display board and dust under the sheets covering the radio station. I loved the damp looking skirting board. The character costumes let the audience know a little more about each of the characters. this role. The lighting designer Leo Wittwer had a brilliant lighting design, allowing us to buy into the story more with for example tv flashes reflecting on the actors faces. The sound designer Lewis Brown did a fantastic job creating atmosphere, the soundtrack to this play alone is a playlist you could listen to forever with classic hits from Aretha Franklin to Sam and Dave. 

This fabulous production is well worth seeing, at times it felt like it could be paced up slightly although it is overall a fantastic version of the play – showcasing the actors of the BA class. Following the unprecedented times we can all relate to these characters, the feeling of wanting to take hold of the things we care about, to take chances and stand up for our beliefs. We could all use a bit of understanding in the world and less prejudice. This play handles heavy themes with grace and comedy allowing us to relax while taking in the wonderful quirks and strengths of each character. By the end you too will be screaming “We are looneys and we are proud!”

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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