THIS MAY HURT A BIT
by Stella Feehily.
Tour to 21 June 2014.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 March at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.
Forceful if fitful dramatic diagnosis of Health Service under pressure.
If only the man who pushed the NHS into being was still around with his passionate scorn. Even in a roughly Welsh accented cameo, Aneurin Bevan’s rhetoric feasts on conviction, contrasting the mealy-mouthed hollowness of today’s focus-group politicians.
Feehily’s play is well-researched rather than well-written. It lights eventually on old socialist Iris, refusing private medical treatment to live by the system she believes in. Her son supports her. Her daughter, with her American doctor husband, wants her to go private.
Iris could seem a bigoted old-fashioned refusenik. But she’s played by Stephanie Cole, who can make any sentence seem both surprising and natural, and coat the harshest judgement with embraceable warmth to form such sweet asperity.
Feehily puts her in the vanguard of right: Cole makes it the march you want to join, contrasting the self-centred transatlantic, uni-dimensional medicine-as-business smoothies.
Around these people is a chaos of political theatre, as answer to the farce of Andy de la Tour’s satire on Margaret Thatcher and the Health Service Safe in Our Hands and the despondent weariness contrasting scrubbed-up soap opera fantasy Peter Nichols created in 1969’s The National Health.
Natalie Klaemar’s imported Nurse articulates the knife-edge operation of an understaffed ward, surviving on the hope there will never be more than one emergency at a time. Among theatrical devices thrown-in, the most didactic stands-out: a board displaying how much money the Private Finance Initiative provided to build new hospitals, and how much more the private financiers have made in profits.
“Why aren’t you angry?” is the question as this scene ends. Probably because the confusion of styles here is as big an overload as a long shift in an under-resourced ward where the NHS itself is a basket-case wheeled around by her own grim reaper, recounting 60 years’ history as a series of romantic relationships of varying success.
Caught between freewheeling political cabaret and examination of the impact of an ‘end-user’ the piece neither ignites as one nor grips as the other. But as a pot pourri of what should be and what is happening, it still makes a fair polemic.
Cast: Frances Ashman, Stephanie Cole, William Hope, Natalie Klaemar, Hywel Morgan, Brian Protheroe, Jane Wymark, Tristram Wymark..
Director: Max Stafford-Clark.
Designer/Costume: Tim Shortall.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Composer:(choral): Adam Pleeth.
Composer (soundtrack): Charlotte Hatherley.
Choreographer: Orian Michaeli.
Associate director: Tim Hoare.
Assistant director: Maureen A Bryan.
5 Mar–5 Apr Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 29 Mar, 2 Apr 2pm Audio-described 4 Apr BSL Signed 27 Mar Octagon Theatre Bolton 01204 520661 www.octagonbolton.co.uk
8-12 Apr 7.30pm Traverse Theatre Edinburgh 0131 228 1404 www.traverse.co.uk
15-19 Apr 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Everyman Theatre Cheltenham 01242 572573 www.everymantheatre.org.uk
22-26 Apr Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
29 Apr–3 May Tue-Sat 7.30pm Bristol Old Vic 0117 987 7877 www.bristololdvic.org.uk
7-10 May 7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2pm Liverpool Playhouse 0151 709 4776 www.everymanplayhouse.com
14 May–21 Jun Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu (except 29 May), Sat & 27 May 2.30pm St. James Theatre London 0844 264 2140 www.stjamestheatre.co.uk