Psychology Experience inYork

On a beautiful fall weekend I took the train sightseeing to York, a 2-hour train ride from London. York is mainly known for its Gothic minster, the second largest Gothic church building in England (behind Winchester Cathedral), and the third-largest (supposedly) in Europe (after St. Peter’s and the Gaudi-folly Sagrada Familia in Barcelona). York boasts also a large medieval old town, a multitude of very original and well-stocked pubs and restaurants, a Roman heritage and much more.

This visit gave me the opportunity to view 2 theatre plays (what else do you do in the evening when alone and single in York??), both of which have a psychology orientation, but play out very differently. The “Guinea Pig Club” by Susan Watkins in the York Theatre Royal takes place in an English Field Hospital during world War II where cosmetic surgeon Archibald McIndoe (who before the war had considered retiring at age 50 after having made a lot of money) develops his skills sewing together the most horribly burned RAF pilots and crews, restructuring their destroyed faces, bodies – and minds. In doing this he runs up against the strict hospital and nursing regulations, because he finds out that not only does he need to restore the faces of these soldiers, but must re-acquaint them to future life in society. Most of the soldiers spend months in the hospital, undergo series of operations – and come out with faces not resembling their previous ones, often experienced as grotesque by non-understanding “friends and neighbours”. So, McIndoe arranges parties in his ward, has them play instruments, urges some of the more willing nurses to dance with the injured, and even prompts one of the previously suicidal soldiers to go on a trial weekend in London when his semi-reconstructed nose tissue is still connected to his shoulder, giving him the appearance of an elephant’s trunk.  The soldier spends this weekend with a young nurse who has been cajoled by McIndoe to make eyes at the soldier, in order to re-establish some kind of hope for the future into his desolate self-conscious perception. The nurse only unwillingly subscribed to this charade, only for the promise of McIndoe to take professional care of her own badly injured childhood boyfriend – and purported future husband. She is thrown in a terrible dilemma of loyalty, since she does take to the injured pilot, and while first refusing to marry him, breaks off with her childhood love – only to be in the end rejected by the pilot who – “happy end” – feels strong enough to face the world anew without her.

This is a good play, with a faulty ending, but excellent acting. It shows the commitment of so many people involved in the war effort, in spite of each showing deficiencies as a person in the face of a heroic effort. (Data show that around 60.000 British airforce soldiers died fighting the German invasion of Britain.) The acting is excellent, the staging imaginative, with a female singer providing frequent background music, both with old pre and interwar songs (and a few more recent ones). The morale: rules are rules, but frequently need to be broken to achieve results!

 The next night the “psychological thriller” Blue/Orange by Joen Penhall at the Grand Opera House York, a play which received a plethora of awards contrasts two prison hospital psychologists, the Chief Consultant and his young colleague. The battle is over Christopher, earlier caught with drugs, who believes that his father is Idi Amin. He is supposed to be dismissed after 28 days. The young doctor would like to keep him longer, suspecting he has schizophrenia, while the older one wants to dismiss him and put him into his own outpatient care. Not unselfishly, because he plans on finishing a pathbreaking book on the cultural context (aka race-determination) of psychosis, for which he wants to use Christopher as an object of study. In a relentless exchange of arguments, the chief consultant, in order to win the battle, gets Christopher to denounce the young doctor (falsely) of racism which would end this doctor’s fledgling career – for whose success the chief doctor’s recommendation is necessary. At the expense of the ever more confused Christopher the two doctors battle it out till the end, again revealing that each other’s motives are not patient-wellbeing, but their own respective careers. A sobering, if very well-played performance, not uninteresting as a topic when the National Health Service is subjected by the British government to its most radical reform, subjecting it to massive private-sector-type competition. Doctors’,  nurses’ and patients’ organizations have massively criticized both the content and the pace of this reform – to no avail. Since the health care issue consistently ranks among the most important concerns of voters, this might be the issue which may bring down the British government at the next election.



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