Comedy review: Adam Kay – This is Going to Hurt (Secret Diaries of A Junior Doctor), King’s Theatre, Glasgow

MORE theatrical and compelling than the vast majority of book readings, seasoned performer Adam Kay’s touring show is at once steeped in the traditions of medical revue and an antidote to them.

Kay’s gallows humour helped him deal with NHS tragedies

Adam Kay – This is Going to Hurt (Secret Diaries of A Junior Doctor), King’s Theatre, Glasgow ****

Before becoming the bestselling author of his warts-and-all memoir, the former obstetrician and gynaecologist had a reasonable comedy career, which he started as a song parodist while still at medical school.

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Now, with his recently acquired fame and attendant large theatre audience, he dusts off his back catalogue of tunes, familiar pop hits re-written to focus on upsetting ailments and diseases, the punchlines arriving with the chorus. Although song spoofery will never attract highbrow respect – its association with students lazily padding out an Edinburgh Fringe hour still strong – Kay has superior command of his shtick, a running game of guess-the-illness to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah proving particularly entertaining.

Initially, these frivolous musical interludes simply appear an effective contrast to the drier humour of Kay’s diary entries. He writes with great economy, sharing just enough setup for the great British public’s idiocy and misadventure to bring the belly-laughs, humanity’s capacity to injure itself in the pursuit of hedonism seldom ceasing to impress. But tired, under-resourced and under-valued medical staff make mistakes too.

Soon enough, the songs become the fullest expression of Kay’s coping strategy, the gallows humour he deployed to deal with the tragedy he was party to. Ultimately, his reasons for leaving medicine are persuasively framed with anger and defiance at government assaults on the NHS.

JAY RICHARDSON