Takin’ Over the Asylum

Who could believe that in this day and age a community radio station could be subject to presenters being forcibly removed from the studio, funds diverted from the use to which they were intended…oh, hold on, I live in Leith…better start again, eh?

Since the six part tv series first aired around 20 years ago, both technology and social attitudes have changed dramatically. And while it could be said that attitudes towards those suffering from mental health problems might just be superficial “pc” rather than deeply held beliefs, this situation leaves Donna Franceschild’s two hour condensation of the series suspended between a 21st century expose of the shortcomings of the health service and the period piece that it will, in time, inevitably become. Nonetheless, it does have a great deal of relevance to situations both within and without hospital walls today.

Set in St Jude’s hospital, it opens with the arrival of DJ Ready Eddie McKenna, the Soul Survivor, (Iain Robertson) hired to revive the hospital radio station. Which, with varying degrees of help from the patients and hindrance from the staff, he gradually succeeds in doing.

The empathy between Eddie and the patients points up the fact that he is as damaged as some of them: never without a whisky bottle to hand, drowning his regrets at never having found fame as a radio DJ, and never having made a sale for the double glazing company who are his daytime employers. Small wonder then, that he sees himself as one with them; forming an emotional attachment to the self-harming Francine (Helen Mallon) and becoming a substitute for the ever-absent father of manic would-be DJ Campbell.

There isn’t a bad performance from any of the cast, from the always excellent Caroline Paterson to the lanky, angular figure of Brian Vernel, who is a firecracker as Campbell. But I have to single out Grant O’Rourke who imbues IT genius Fergus with a quiet dignity that lets him steal every scene he’s in.

Compressing the story into two hours does mean that there is a slightly unnatural feel to the division between the first act, where broad comedy dominates, and the emphasis on the tragedy of the situation in which the patients find themselves in act two.

There is no happy ending: the station is closed and Eddie loses his job with the double glazing company. No-one is suddenly cured, there is no healing power of music here. But Franceschild allows small glimmers of hope for the future; Campbell gets his opportunity to be a DJ on a “real” radio station, Eddie admits to being an alcoholic and prepares to face whatever life may throw at him next, hand in hand with Francine.

Jim Welsh