BWW Reviews: THIS MAY HURT A BIT, The St James Theatre, May 19 2014
The St James Theatre is currently presenting a new play by Sheila Feehily, This May Hurt a Bit: a fundamentally very serious play, with relevant, very important themes - and it's kooky and fun!
Some small knowledge of the NHS's founding might be helpful during the show's unusual opening; the action commences as politically as it intends to continue, with an impassioned speech from Aneurin Bevan (the MP who spearheaded the movement in 1948).
Time then rapidly moves forward and takes us to a modern GP's surgery and then a hospital ward. Nicholas has a rushed appointment with an insensitive doctor and cannot make a follow-up appointment after the recommended period. His mother, Iris, is tremendously proud of and grateful for the medical treatment she has received over the years and loudly says so when her snobby daughter comes to visit with her obnoxious American partner. They all discuss the pros of private treatment versus the National Health Service a lot and the hospital staff contribute, saying things that no NHS employee would actually dream of stating to patients or their family. Things are rather stereotypical.
The actors did a fantastic job, in particular Brian Protheroe as Nicholas and Stephanie Cole as Iris. Protheroe's performance was moving, beautifully controlled performance and Cole created a very likeable, admirable character. Natalie Klamar had some excellent moments as a frazzled nurse. However, Feehily's script lacked subtlety; the show's themes were repeatedly stated outright, to the extent that at times the play merely felt like a vehicle for expressing political opinions - rather than a piece of theatre that also expressed opinions. Had it been less blatant, the piece as a whole would have been more effective. There was also a feeling of farce about the scenes set in hospital, to at the extent that it felt like the show was making a farce of the undeniably great institution it sought to defend.
There are some absolutely lovely comedic moments, though; the scrubbing-in dance performed by the entire company at the top of Act 2 and the helpful infomercial , explaining how loans from private companies have affected the NHS. These are slickly original - and so make it even more of a shame when the arguments are less convincing, especially during Klamar's first entrance. While her arguments are valid, they are presented in such a hysterical way that their substance is devalued.
Whichever side you stand on, an issue this big is going to inspire anger. Angry voices are rarely the most articulate, though, and a more understated approach might well have yielded a more sophisticated and persuasive result.
This May Hurt a Bit contains some adult language and is running at the St James Theatre until 21st June.