Trauma, of course, has a dual meaning. On one level, it’s in reference to Doctor Jon Allerton’s role as senior trauma consultant; on another, it alludes to the death of Dan Bowker’s son, a trauma that sees his life fall apart around him.
This death is at the heart of Trauma; as a programme, it’s fascinated by death and its impact, depicting an almost eschatological collapse of the status quo. This manifests through Trauma’s examination of both Dan Bowker (John Simm) and Jon Allerton (Adrian Lester), as parent and surgeon are forced to confront this death and how it changes them. There’s a compelling bond between them, as a grieving man latches onto the last human face who told him everything would be okay, the relationship quickly deteriorating as he searches for someone to blame. In a sense, certain similarities can be drawn between this and writer Mike Bartlett’s previous work on Doctor Foster, another drama focused on a spiralling disintegration of its lead character’s life; what sets Trauma apart, however, is how dedicated it is to exploring dual perspectives. There’s a real nuance and subtlety to Trauma, a measured approach to character work that doesn’t betray any of the ambiguity it allows.
Such an interrogation of these different perspectives was always going to rely on talented actors to realise them; Trauma is blessed, then, with two leads who elevate the material at every turn. Indeed, Adrian Lester and John Simm are perfect foils to one another, and it’s difficult to imagine two better actors for the roles. Where Lester’s performance is very precise and mannered, Simm’s is decidedly more sprawling and chaotic, at times the very picture of barely suppressed rage. It’s never more evident than when they share scenes together; Lester is poised, controlled, indicative of just how self-assured his character is, while Simm is hunched and unrestrained, a picture of a life unravelled. In turn, there’s a real energy when the dynamic shifts; at the climax of the drama, when Allerton is no longer in a position of control, there’s an almost palpable tension to be felt.
Marc Evans’ direction juxtaposes the two further, emphasising the contrast between Allerton and Bowker. Parallels form between Allerton and Bowker at work and at home; one notable moment cuts from Allerton and his wife to Bowker alone, contrasting intimacy with a lack thereof, and accentuating Bowker’s increased isolation. As a whole, Trauma is well directed, striking a poignant tone; it makes an effective use of empty spaces and atmospheric sound design, very keenly evoking a sense of absence and grief throughout.
Ideas of class are central to Trauma, of course, such that a review without discussion of it would be incomplete. Evans’ direction highlights this, drawing attention to the disparity between Bowker and Allerton’s social status; a suit, a coat, furniture and so on all function as a metonym, symbolising the gulf between Bowker’s working-class life and Allerton’s comfortable upper middle-class existence. These ideas contribute to the sense of injustice that runs through the piece; much of Bowker’s frustration comes from this feeling that he’s a nobody, that this is why he can’t find any closure. In a sense, Bowker’s struggle with grief mirrors his difficulty with redundancy, all whilst Allerton experiences things from a position of relative security and authority.
Also interesting to note is how the drama interrogates themes of masculinity. In a way, Bowker’s grief is so destructive – prompting him to become increasingly obsessive, consumed sorrow and angst – because of how he processes his emotions as anger. Certainly, his wife Susie (Lyndsey Marshal) doesn’t react that way, becoming increasingly detached from her husband because of his actions; indeed, it’s telling that part of Trauma’s climax is structured around the female characters attempting to listen to and empathise with Bowker. While it’s perhaps not a chief focus of the drama, certainly a commentary on and eventual rejection of toxic masculinity can be inferred from subtext.
There’s something significant, too, about how the drama resolves. As already remarked upon, Trauma doesn’t entirely betray its central ambiguity; it still ends with a certain note of nuance. If either man could be said to experience a victory, it was a pyrrhic one. Jon Allerton is haunted by the death of Alex Bowker, and there’s a rift in his own family too; bookending the drama by opening with a scene of Allerton and his daughter on holiday, and closing with a scene of his daughter leaving, illustrates how he’s lost her in a sense as well. Meanwhile, though there’s suggestion that Daniel Bowker now has a degree of closure, his final scene can be read another way: that in going to such extreme lengths, he’s lost something of his son forever.
It’s a striking note to end on, serving to illustrate just how haunting and evocative that Trauma was; if there’s any message imparted, it’s to emphasise once more just how destructive unrestrained grief can ultimately prove to be.
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