“Every audience member will have had an experience with the NHS, whether as a patient or working within the organisation. When we’ve had predominantly NHS workers in the audience it has been, for us, overwhelming at the end. I remember one lady who was in tears, I saw her afterwards in the foyer, and she said ‘You’re talking for us, nobody has spoken for us’.”
– Stephanie Cole, Actress
Out of Joint theatre company (Our Country’s Good, Dreams Of Violence) have embarked on a subject for their most recent production that is close to the heart of our nation: the NHS. But why is theatre an important place to discuss the contentious issues surrounding this organisation? We spoke to the cast of This May Hurt A Bit to find out why they feel this play is important.
I’ve had a lot of contact with the NHS over the last few years – my husband dying of cancer, my mother of strokes, my brother has schizophrenia; so I’m very much aware that all is not well. I’m also aware that there are wonderful people working in it on the ground and that there are not so wonderful people running it which is happening in many areas of our lives, from the post office to the railways to the NHS.
Plays are there to make you look at things afresh and of course to entertain you but also to make you think and in this case it’s a very entertaining play, a very moving play, it’s very funny but along the way you glean information, a lot of it – rather like burrs on a country walk. At the end of the walk you suddenly find yourself stuck with burrs all over which you didn’t realise you’d acquired as you brushed through the edges.
My character has the last line of the play which is ‘we mustn’t give up Gina, we must fight, there’s still time’ and I think that’s really important.
It’s so rare to be a part of a project that can change the way people think about such an important issue. Sometimes when you watch the news you can feel distanced from what they’re talking about if you’ve not been directly affected by it, but by creating characters that the audience can identify with and warm to; the subject matter can hit home in a way that facts and figures sometimes can’t.
What worries me is sleepwalking into losing the NHS because we’ve had it all our lives. So we take it for granted and we don’t know what it would be like without it and we’re brainwashed into thinking it’d all be marvellous and it wouldn’t.
As it stands, the NHS is still the best in the world for acute medicine. Where the system tends to fall down is chronic illness, when things go on and on. I agree with the message of the play it’s just so frightening about private finance initiatives and being stuck into this debt. I’m so shocked to see it happening here.
People forget the enormous numbers of people who have very good treatment on the NHS every day, that aren’t dying in Mid Staffs and aren’t complaining about their GPs. There is a hell of a lot of extremely good care and that just sort of fades out.
Brian Protheroe and William Hope
I was 4 years old when the NHS came into being. It has benefitted me for the whole of my life and to find that private organisations are gradually being allowed to profit from this public service is both personally bewildering and distressing.
As far as I know it’s the first theatrical production that has addressed the Health and Social Care Act, which is so complex and detailed. We’re slowly learning more but the principal fact is that it’s laying the ground to privatise as many components of the NHS as possible. I’m not sure that people are aware of the extent of it and probably this play will provoke a huge number of questions and shine a light on some of the murkier areas that the media should be picking up, on as well as members of the public.
Everybody knows that the NHS has been going through some really difficult times but somehow it goes over our heads because when we’re ill, as long as we’re treated, we’re “alright Jack”. I think this play’s important because nobody’s talking about it. There is nobody in this country not affected by what is happening to the NHS. All you need to know is you’ve been lied to. It affects all of us and I think we all have a responsibility to try and get together and stand against the people that are trying to take an institution that we’ve had for 65 years.
The play is important to me because my sister (fellow cast-member Jane) and I have spent the last 7 years very involved with my mother’s health care. We’ve experienced the National Health close up and they have been wonderful, virtually every stage. Of course everyone has some bad experiences but those are outweighed by the amazing things these people do. I’m constantly heartened and overjoyed to see how much people in the health system care because it’s certainly not the money that keeps them going. The piece is important because there is a brilliant message in there that we need to get out there.
‘Aneurin Bevan? Architect of the NHS and my political hero?! I’ll bite your arm off.’ That was what I told my agent before I’d even read Stella Feehilly’s script for This May Hurt A Bit. Despite having died twelve years before I was born, coming from South Wales, Nye Bevan is a massive figure. Robert Thomas’ life size bronze at the end of Queen Street in Cardiff appeared during my teenage years and his legacy was emblazoned across the plinth: Aneurin Bevan 1897-1960: Founder of the NHS.
The truth is if we lose the NHS we lose the greatest thing this country has ever created. Most of us won’t realise how important it is until it’s gone.
This My Hurt A Bit is in our Theatre 29 Apr-3 May. Tickets and information here.
Photography by John Haynes
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