The mix of care and chaos you find in NHS wards across the country is unveiled with jaw-dropping clarity in John Godber’s This Might Hurt – the true story of the last days of his Aunty Bet.
We are told in the opening scene that although we know how the play will end it is not supposed to make us sad but rather make us laugh at the absurdity of it all – ultimately the playwright hopes we leave the theatre wanting to fight for our health service.
Godber, having had first hand experience of the great NHS – his life was saved 22 years ago – is a fierce defender of a free service, which is one of the reasons he felt he had to write a play about his own family’s experience at the hands of the now beleaguered institution.
Most of the play is a narrative monologue by Robert Angell who plays Jack Skipton, a tough actor who once had a part in Casualty, a subject that becomes something of a running joke throughout the play. His only living relative is his Aunty Bet, a part also filled by Angell with the additional prop of a simple headscarf.
Both Jack and his aunt are struck by potentially fatal illnesses. In the first half the NHS comes up trumps when an on-the-ball consultant diagnoses what Jack thinks is a just an injured back as a pulmonary embolism.
After the interval however we see how our current system can get it all badly wrong, as rules and red tape hamper any notion of care and Aunty Bet dies from cancer in pain and with no-one having the time to explain what’s wrong with her.
The astonishing 29 other parts in the fast-paced play, which include patients, doctors, nurses, consultants and carers, were all played by Rachael Abbey and Josie Morley.
The Hull University graduates were in the original version of the show, a short play called Who Cares that toured libraries across East Yorkshire.
The two young women were a perfect pair and were deft at making the most of Godber’s gags and portraying brilliantly his diverse range of characters with slick costume changes.
Particularly hilarious were the patients who, with no sense of irony, were enjoying “a breath of fresh air” while smoking in the hospital doorway and a “dance sequence” involving a patient-laden trolley and the duo as porters.
The set design was kept simple and functional and was conceived to be as functional as possible in venues of all sizes. Godber wants to make sure his message gets to a wide a community as possible.
It is a poignant play and it will make you laugh and cry despite the assurances that it wasn’t supposed to do so.
The set design was by Foxton, lighting was by Graham Kirk, the production manager was Gareth Williams, the company stage manager Katie Rayner an the stage manager Catherine Farish.
You can see it at Derby Theatre until September 24. (Tickets http://www. derbytheatre.co.uk). It will also be at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate Theatre from September 29-October 1(http://www. chesterfieldtheatres.co.uk) and Buxton Opera House from October 9-12 (http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk)