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Latitude Festival: Mark Thomas presents Check Up: Our NHS @ 70 – Theatre Arena

Reviewer: Simon Topping

On stage surrounded by a set that looks like a hospital consultation room, complete with a patients screen, anti-bacterial hand wash and a medical bin, Mark Thomas hits the ground running; as always he has a lot to say, heaps of passion and not enough time to impart his gathered wisdom.

To start the original NHS is Coming information film is played. Thomas’ 83-year-old mum can remember it from cinemas and he reminds us of the three founding principles of the service as set up by politician Nye Bevan: one that it is free, two that is comprehensive and three that it is universal, for all; to take the fear out of health care. This thinking led to 17 million glasses being prescribed in the first two years of the NHS’ inception. 

Thomas has created the show from a series of interviews he conducted with leading medical experts and from hospital/surgery residences in order to find out how we can support the NHS now. Alongside this, Thomas asks a retired GP (Ron) what he can expect to go wrong with his body over the next 30 years which might land him up needing medical help. The findings are compelling, touching, often with laugh out loud moments and call the listener to action.

Thomas has made the decision to act out most of the interviews, rather than edit and play them on the big screen behind him. A brave choice for a performer not known for his characterisation or acting skills, but it is a risk that pays off nicely as Mark can do a good range of accents (even if they do charmingly drop from time to time) and embodies the clinicians and physicians he has met very well. There is an especially funny sequence where Thomas plays an ego-driven surgeon cutting fat to music as Thomas himself looks on aghast.

As the evening progresses we are introduced to a wide variety of healthcare professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty to help their communities, from those working in the A&E, dementia care and obesity treatment to those high up in the service. There is a commonality among the voices; the NHS needs supporting with more tax pounds and less privatisation.

The serious points are juxtaposed by the laughter gained often at Mark’s expense as Ron describes how his body is going to fall to pieces over the next couple of decades. “Let be honest,” the retired GP says, “You are, well let’s be generous, a stone and a half overweight.” Thomas takes it all in his stride.

Above all, Thomas knows how to deliver an important speech in a charismatic way that immerses the audience completely in the message. He is a strong orator and comes across as a positive impassioned person who cares about a nations health and the need for the NHS to be free for all. Something the crowd here wholeheartedly agrees with. Check Up is a fantastic a stirring presentation from start to finish.

Reviewed on 14 July 2018 | Image: Contributed

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