Theatre review - This May Hurt A Bit

Scene from This May Hurt A Bit. Pic Comp

Scene from This May Hurt A Bit. Pic Comp

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THE silence surrounding the creeping privatisation of the NHS in England is one of the great mysteries of current British politics, along with our UK-wide tolerance for the hugely overpriced PFI schemes that are gradually crippling NHS budgets everywhere.

This May Hurt A Bit - Traverse, Edinburgh

****

So it comes almost as a shock to find ex-Traverse director Max Stafford-Clark, a veteran radical of the British stage, not only tackling the subject head-on – in this new play by Stella Feehily for his Out Of Joint Company – but also doing it in good old-fashioned agitprop style.

Feehily’s play therefore combines a contemporary family story about conflicting attitudes to the NHS with broad-brush-stroke political cabaret involving the figures of Aneurin Bevan and Winston Churchill, cameo appearances by the Grim Reaper and the struggling NHS herself, and some full-on delivery of shocking statistics. The dramatic texture is undeniably uneven, sometimes too desperately even-handed in its presentation of conflicting views, sometimes flat-footed in its determination to get the facts across.

The play revolves, though, around a very fine performance from the wonderful Stephanie Cole as Iris, a 90-year-old veteran of the fight to set up the NHS, who is not giving up on it now, and as the story of her brief admission to a chaotically underfunded hospital unfolds, Feehily’s play begins to exert an ever stronger and more moving grip.

This May Hurt A Bit is full of anger, despair, and the occasional collapse into “broken NHS” imagery, yet it ends on a fine note of defiance, with Iris and her crazy, kindly nurse Gina determined to fight on, while there is still time.

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