This May Hurt A Bit - Octagon Theatre, Bolton
In the current political climate it seems strange there are not more ‘angry’ young dramas.
Perhaps the age of austerity also extends, unwittingly, to curbs on political theatre? In any case writer Stella Feehily freely spends a lot of righteous fury in this new play about the state of the NHS, based in part on the experiences of her husband – and the play’s director – Max Stafford Clark, who suffered a stroke eight years ago.
Feehily’s play is not perfect, and the production feels like its cast are bedding it in. But the sheer indignation of such work is usually enough to power it onwards and upwards, and that is certainly the case here.
Everyone from NHS ‘founder’ Aneurin Bevan, via Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher (as a budgerigar) and the Grim Reaper make cameos in the corridors of fictional Harrington Hospital – a first-class set design from Tim Shortall.
The key figures t are the paramedics, patients and medical staff confronted with a service constantly teetering between compassion and chaos. It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious – and Feehily’s writing often manages to be both at once.
In the best traditions of old-style agitprop theatre there are graphs illustrating the Private Finance Initiative iceberg that threatens a titanic effect on our hospitals; and an equally gloomy weather forecast sequence that closes the first act and reels off the ‘storm’ damage already suffered nationwide.
The second act is grounded largely on the wards and lets a trouper like Stephanie Cole, as a sometimes bemused (and occasionally expletive-uttering) senior citizen, deliver some of the killer one-liners. But this is generally high-value ensemble acting from a cast of eight, with occasional scene-stealing vignettes, from Natalie Klamar as a European agency nurse, or Frances Ashman as a spectacularly-bewildered patient.
It’s in these scenes where the political gets personal and the injection of humour is bound to hurt a little, but if plays like this effect a cure then it’s worth the ‘pain’. Until April 5.