This May Hurt a Bit

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green reviews Stella Feehlly’s satire on the NHS entitled This May Hurt a Bit at St James Theatre.

This May Hurt a BitI had high hopes for Stella Feehlly’s satire on the NHS entitled This May Hurt a Bit (St James Theatre), directed by her husband Max Stafford-Clark, inspired by his experiences when he had a stroke, but the result is an indigestible blend of agitprop, drama, documentary, fact and fiction.

The action centres on the experience of one nonagenarian and her son Nicholas through the health service. They are visited by daughter/sister Mariel and her American husband Hank, over from the US for a conference. Hank is an enthusiastically pre-private medicine orthopaedic surgeon, newly promoted to the head of department at a New York hospital. But their lives change dramatically when illness strikes, Nicholas is diagnosed with a chronic condition, while Iris has a fall which is initially diagnosed as the result of a stroke. However Iris refuses to give up on life or her beloved NHS without a fight.

The family’s story is inappropriately interwoven with songs, dances, information flashed on an LED display, interventions by characters carrying graphs and delivering statistics appearances by Winston Churchill and Aneurin Bevin, the latter in the opening scene advocating the establishment of a national health service in 1948, the NHS itself represented as a sick patient and the grim reaper.

This could be described as a play which preaches to the converted since it reveals nothing new about the troubles in the health service, and is bound to alienate anyone holding an alternative viewpoint. The moves back and forth in time to ram home the message only serves to create confusions and distract from the main storyline. It would have been far better had Feehlly concentrated on the basic plotline rather than trying to include a broad overview of the situation and thus weakening the overall effect. To her credit though, there are some scathing funny swipes at politicians, bureaucracy, economics and the day to day running of the NHS.

Stephanie Cole gives a spirited performance as the feisty Iris, while Brian Protheroe as her mild-mannered 60-year-old son Nicholas makes the most of an underwritten part. Natalie Klamar as an overstretched nurse, Jane Wymark as Mariel, William Hope as Hank, Tristram Wymark as Churchill and Hywel Morgan as Bevin lend much needed support.

But I’m afraid this mixture of absurdity and realism left me cold.

Runs until June 21

Box office: 0844 264 2140

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