When helping others is at the heart of your career, what happens when you’re the one who needs help? We talked to Tania Amsel about her new one-woman play Blood Orange, told from the perspective of an overwhelmed junior doctor at Christmas, which runs at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre from 10 December 2019 to 4 January 2020. Time to get booking!
It’s Christmas Eve in Swansea A&E and Amy has just vomited all over a hot doctor’s shoes. Amy is not a patient at the hospital, she’s a Junior Doctor… Hoping to secure a transfer to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, Amy can handle the long hours, the overtime, and even the shame of vomiting on her colleague’s shoes. But when assigned to the case of a boy with cancer, Amy is confronted with childhood memories she thought she’d forgotten and the pressure begins to take its toll.
Blood Orange, is written and performed by Tania Amsel, directed by Hamish MacDougall, with lighting by Jamie Platt and sound by Dong Tingying. It’s produced by Ameena Hamid and Tom Dixon.
Talking to… Tania Amsel
Playwright and performer Tania Amsel has written for the Tron Theatre Glasgow and Women@RADA. She has performed in Bloody Men (Arcola Theatre), Just To Get Married (Finborough), Chatroom (Etcetera Theatre), At War With Love (Edinburgh Fringe), Lollipop (Monologue Slam), The Dance Hall (Blue Elephant), Never Have I Ever (Arcola), and Exchange & Mart (BAFTA-winning short film).
What was your inspiration for Blood Orange?
As a writer, I always want to find stories about the person behind the job. Especially in the medical world, the job can become so much of their lives, especially working when other jobs take a break (ie Christmas). The NHS is so important right now, being a doctor is so important right now. I wanted to tell that person’s story.
My initial thoughts were of a feisty young woman who finds that the job she’s dedicated to begins to overwhelm her and who discovers unresolved issues that can no longer be ignored. As a writer, I find stories often reflect something personal and then take on a life of their own.
How did you research the play?
I spoke with friends who work in the NHS. And how proud they are to be doing so; a healthcare system that is unique in the world. This led me to research how the constant cuts really affect medical staff on a daily basis. My determination was fired further with the Junior Doctors’ Strike, seeing how the real issues were ignored and misrepresented in the media. What came out most is how much the junior doctors feel under constant pressure and how this stress takes its toll.
I also spoke with cancer specialists about how this illness affects the person suffering but also, importantly, how much support that family and loved ones need to deal with it.
What’s your character Amy like?
Amy is dedicated, determined and a bit of a goofball, especially in those awkward romantic situations – which I think I lot of us can relate to from some point in our lives. She is smart, good at her job, and loves helping people. But she begins to realise she’s been hiding her feelings by overworking and pushing ahead. She has a great sense of fun that she’s been ignoring.
Why did you want to stage the play now at the Old Red Lion?
First, there aren’t enough Christmas shows that aren’t pantomimes. The few I have been lucky enough to see over the years have been a joy, and I hope people will leave mine with that same feeling.
Second, the story of Amy is timely, urgent even, to highlight the stress that staff in the NHS feel in their work. Any story that raises awareness and gets people talking about mental health and bereavement can never be aired enough.
Third, the Old Red Lion has a fantastic reputation for supporting new writing so I am honoured to tell my story here. And the theatre is intimate, which is perfect for the audience to join in Amy’s journey of discovery.
Tell us about the charities you’ve chosen to support.
Great Ormond Street has a reputation as a children’s hospital that goes beyond the ordinary. Their care for children with cancer is awe-inspiring. To be able to support them by having a collection after each performance feels like a small token of gratitude.
SANE is a relatively small mental health charity that does fantastic work specifically with young people. We’re also collecting for them and promoting their services for people who need to access them.
Have you had any personal experiences with the NHS?
When I was younger, I spent time in hospital, and I was looked after with total professionalism and care beyond what’s expected. But lately, I’ve noticed how overwhelmed, overworked and under-pressure every person is, which made me want to shout this message from rooftops: we need to support the dedicated NHS staff!
What else would you like audiences to take away?
I really hope audiences enjoy Blood Orange. I also hope they will reflect on the issues raised and feel that it really is okay to talk about difficult feelings. Hopefully, they also come away with a spring in their step and humming a Christmas tune!
Blood Orange runs from 10 December 2019 to 4 January 2020 at the Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John St, Islington, London EC1V 4NJ with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm (except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve), matinees on Saturdays, plus Sunday 22 December, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve at 2.30pm. Tickets priced £10-16. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!