Drowning (2 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: Alex Brenner

Historical drama about four murderous nurses

Jessica Ross's debut play Drowning explores philosophical questions of mortality through the story of four Austrian nurses charged with the deaths of 49 patients in 1991. Ross's script assumes that, according to media rumours, their death count was much larger. The play embarks upon an attempt to explain the actions of these women through a narrative that addresses as many moral conundrums as the nurses' epic body count.

The stage is simply set: white bathtubs are dimly lit with blue light, and this stark set-up magnifies the stirring performances of the play's small cast of four. The effort and energy of the actors is sadly unsupported by the absence of any exposition. The plot is continually distracted by new concepts, as relationships rise, fall and then take jarring U-turns, so that the play fails to construct a convincing argument for these nurses' motives. As a result, Drowning fails to achieve what it sets out to do.

The script is nonetheless unsettling, framed by a series of monologues from each nurse. These moments of atmospheric clarity and haunting self-confession are, however, interrupted by scenes which lack as much depth or sense. Overall, a show that lets too many ideas drown what is an eerie and deeply affecting premise.

Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 Aug (not 12), 2.30pm, £12 (£11).


  • 2 stars

Dark Lady Co What makes a killer? What makes the yearning for connection and friendship so great that you would do anything? How does a mind justify the most terrifying act? In 1991, four Austrian nurses were charged with murdering 49 patients in their beds, but were suspected of killing up to 200. The world premiere of…