It would be an understatement to say that playwright Stella Feehily is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. In fact, the woman’s unfaltering belief in the NHS is so strong that it frequently manifests itself in moments of genuine aggression throughout her latest offering.
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A manic, unashamedly political work, This May Hurt A Bit amounts to a series of intertwining sketches in which we are given insight into various characters’ experiences of the NHS. From a patient undergoing a prostate examination at the hands of a tactless doctor to an overworked Spanish nurse, each is shown to be committed to the institution despite finding it deeply flawed and frustrating.
Whether or not audiences will share these sentiments remains unclear, and this is the source of the play’s problems. When it isn’t preaching to the converted, it is inundating doubters with more facts and figures than they can possibly process. Carelessly placing broad, knockabout humour alongside combative political satire, Feehily strives to please everyone with a terminally muddled script.
While humour can be found in even the darkest of subjects, we are left with the impression that the writer herself sees little to laugh at in the face of continuing cuts to the healthcare budget. Indeed, the play is at its most appealing when offering up recognisable character studies. In one particularly entertaining scene, a family argues with an American over the morality of privatised hospitals.
Others, in which historic political figures bicker with each other and the NHS is personified as a woman on her death bed, seem less sharply observed.
This May Hurt A Bit may be an obviously flawed mess, but is saved by the utterly convincing passion of its performers. Brian Protheroe’s central character anchors the play with a good natured humanity, while Stephanie Cole shines as a high spirited widow undergoing treatment. Many tackle multiple roles with enthusiasm, any reluctance to deliver silly dialogue outweighed by their commitment to the play’s message.
Unfortunately, things simply run out of steam towards the end and we’re left with a faint sense of disappointment rather than the righteous anger that Feehily and director Max Stafford-Clark are hoping to ignite.
• Run ends April 12