Writer: Stella Feehily
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: George Wallace
The Bolton Octagon isn’t afraid to be controversial and tackle difficult subjects and with its new play, This May Hurt a Bit, the theatre is taking on that most British of institutions, the National Health Service.
The play, which has been written in conjunction with Out of Joint Theatre Company, can be looked at from two angles. Firstly, it serves as a biting reminder of the increasingly challenging conditions facing healthcare workers trying to deliver good quality care to NHS patients in 2014. This is demonstrated by a story arc following a family through a hospital admission where the ward is chronically understaffed, hygiene levels are poor and the board are more concerned with saving money than providing a safe environment for staff and patients; a thinly disguised summation of the Mid-Staffordshire scandal.
Secondly the play packs no punches in delivering a very clear and political message that highlights the idiocy of private finance initiatives, and the disastrous and largely unwanted 2011 Health and Social Care bill that became law in 2012 despite mass opposition from all corners of the health service and following David Cameron’s empty promise in 2010 that there would be ‘no more of those pointless re-organisations that bring chaos’.
In among the propaganda in favour of the NHS there is a reasonably good piece of entertainment and despite one or two jarringly out of place rants bordering on lectures, script writer Stella Feehily has created a selection of scenes that puts the point across clearly with amusement and some poignancy. The action is played out on a functional hospital set complete with non-descript chairs and a lino floor by Tim Shortall that appears to have been designed to suit the traditional proscenium theatres the play is touring to rather than the thrust stage at the Octagon. However, it is lit effectively by Jason Taylor and the space is used well by Director Max Stafford-Clark.
The eight strong cast of very experienced actors features Stephanie Cole as Iris, the patient at the centre of the admission who cares so passionately about the organisation, Jane Wymark as Iris’s Americanised daughter, Mariel, who despite being middle aged still constantly bickers with her brother Nicholas played by Brian Protheroe. The remainder of the cast consists of Frances Ashman, William Hope, Natalie Klamar, Hywel Morgan and Tristram Wymark all playing a multitude of characters with impressive versatility.
The ultimate message of the play is that free health care and the National Health Service being a public body accountable to the public is something on the brink of extinction but worth fighting for. Those people who don’t conform to these ideals will find little to enjoy in This May Hurt a Bit and a few extra empty seats during act 2 may suggest that a few such people may have been present. However, come curtain call the audience on press night in Bolton gave this play a strong reception, which I am sure will be repeated as the play continues on its UK tour.