Director: Nicolas Kent
Reviewer: Matt Forrest
This must be the first time I’ve attended a comedy show where half way through there is a projected video of a stomach operation, whilst a laid-back jazz track plays out, with Thomas bellowing “staple, cut, staple”. But then again, this no normal show; this is a show about an institution that has impacted all of us – our National Health Service.
For his latest show, activist and comedian Mark Thomas takes a look at the NHS from its origins in 1948, the brainchild of Health Secretary Nye Bevan. This is a personal journey for Thomas. His mother was a former nurse, whilst his grandparents had first-hand experience with the service, due to the groundbreaking work they did with the miners and their families.
For this show, Thomas summarises where the NHS is on its 70thbirthday. He has shadowed various departments, including A & E, a dementia unit and a G.P., In addition, Thomas also interviews various health care professionals that include, former Health Secretary Frank Dobson (responsible for the Private Finance Initiative), Professor Dame Sally Davies (England’s chief Medical Officer), and Epidemiologist Michael Marmot. Finally, Thomas undergoes a medical to see what could possibly go wrong with him as he approaches the later stages of life, in which a retired G.P gleefully informs him that pretty much anything and everything can go wrong.
Yet again Thomas proves what an engaging storyteller he is, crafting a show that is funny, heart-breaking and provides plenty of food for thought. One story which particularly struck a chord; how a 30-strong team battled to save the life of a lady who fell through a first-floor window.
This is part comedy, part documentary, but a full-on theatrical show, with Thomas bringing to life some of his interviewees, and attempting to get under the skin of the subject at hand. A projector and a doctors’ changing screen are used to introduce us to the contributors to the show, with a set resembling a GP’s office.
Whilst the show examines the state of the NHS today, it also looks at other mitigating factors that impact on the service such as cuts to social care, our own social and economic place in the UK and the devastating impact former Conservative Health Minster’s Andrew Lansley’s 2012 reforms have had on our beloved NHS. The level of research gone into the show is staggering and whilst there is undoubtedly a left-leaning bias, these stories need to be told.
One frustration from the show is that 75 minutes really doesn’t do the story of the modern NHS justice; it just scratches the service of what is going on and it certainly leaves you wanting to learn more: however given the energy Thomas puts into the performance, he can be forgiven for this.
His passion for the subject matter is, as always, infectious, and whilst the conclusion that the NHS needs more money through taxation is not a huge revelation, neither is the story of the huge government incompetence. The hard work and dedication of the NHS staff is also worth hearing about. The show is a love letter to a much-loved institution that we can only hope will be around to celebrate its 100thbirthday.
Reviewed on 13 April 2019 – continues to tour the UK | Image: Jane Hobson