DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Get Well Soon – Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax

Writer: Ged Cooper

Director: Marianne McNamara

Composer/Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

In Get Well Soon, Danuta, the Polish nurse, is fond of explaining everything by means of Polish proverbs; one turns out to be much the same as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That seems to be the formula by which Mikron Theatre operates. Having devised a rather ambitious and uniquely distinctive modus operandi, Mikron repeats it successfully, simply enlarging its scope year on year.

Mikron commissions two plays on set subjects – British institutions of one sort or another – which combine bits of history, comedy, song, a serious message and some sort of a fictional story-line. Then two male and two female actors set off to explore the canals of this country in a narrowboat, performing the plays (with their own musical accompaniment) in pubs, allotments, museums, town halls and whatever else is available. Before and after spending summer afloat, Mikron covers various non-navigable venues, many not too far from its Marsden base. 

In 2018 Mikron is celebrating anniversaries: the centenary of female suffrage and, in Get Well Soon, the 70th birthday of the National Health Service. These two weighty political themes contrast with some of the lighter subjects (fish and chips, youth hostelling, etc.) with which Mikron has leavened its programme in recent years. The left-leaning agit prop that always lurks beneath the surface (one cannot imagine Mikron celebrating the Primrose League!) becomes more overt in Get Well Soon.

This is by no means a bad thing. There are a couple of stirring speeches from Aneurin Bevan and Ged Cooper and the cast joyously celebrate the achievements of the NHS. The pointed darts aimed at the current privatisation of everything that moves and the replacement of care with jargon at management level strike home, but setting the familiar Mikron tone is not easy. In one way it was not helped by the choice of the magnificently extended and reappointed Square Chapel as the venue for the Press performance. Viewing Mikron from the back row of a tiered, 200-plus seater auditorium was a novel, oddly formal experience.

After labouring a bit early on and occasionally resorting to mugging, the talented and versatile cast of four, under the expert guidance of artistic director Marianne McNamara, establishes the much-loved Mikron style which blends serious messages with excruciating puns and involves all the actors changing accents, costumes and, even, musical instruments in the blink of an eye.

The main storyline that Ged Cooper sets up is clever and works well, despite a tendency to conventional sentimentality. Brian (James McLean) was born at the same time as the NHS and 70 years later is sent home early from hospital after a stroke and relies on the services of district nurse Danuta (Rosamund Hine). His son (Christopher Arkeston) is a hospital manager given to spouting Newspeak, with a rebellious daughter (Daisy Ann Fletcher). All survive significant upsets and the depredations of the appalling Kindly Care which has taken over local NHS services before positivity ultimately returns.

All four actors switch roles skilfully (McLean and Arkeston as a pair of earnestly pro-smoking American doctors are fun) and all sing well in different styles. McLean has been here before, three previous Mikron tours in fact, and leads the way in audience involvement while Fletcher brilliantly gives no hint of the fact that she is a recent replacement owing (ironically enough) to illness.

Touring nationwide | Image: Peter Boyd Photography

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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