BWW Review: ADAM KAY: THIS IS GOING TO HURT LIVE, Vaudeville Theatre
Adam Kay, doctor-turned-comedian and bestselling author, brings his irresistible combination of gross-out hospital tales, humorous songs and passionate advocacy back to the West End, delighting an audience of both medical professionals and keen fans.
Reading from his diaries This is Going to Hurt, Kay traces his career in obstetrics and gynaecology from start to untimely finish, with highlights including a horrifically visceral anecdote about a "degloving" injury (a patient losing all the skin from a delicate area), the various items found inserted into people, bodily fluids of all kinds, and hilarious answers on a Q&A test for dementia.
Even if you know the book, it's a huge pleasure hearing Kay share the stories live - mainly in a wry, deadpan manner, with the odd impish interjection or sidenote. The institutions renamed in the book are now unveiled, since Kay no longer has a license to practise medicine, and so considers himself off the leash. Beware, "St Agatha's".
In between readings, Kay pops over to a keyboard to perform repurposed pop songs with truly glorious/terrible medical puns - once you figure out the format, you can start to anticipate the wonderfully groan-worthy payoffs for each.
Viewers also get involved, whether by choice or not (pity the psychiatrist in the second row). Best of all is a medical quiz set to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", each answer a four-syllable condition that fits the song. Top tip: "malaria" does not work...
A few years in, Kay is now a comfortable stage performer, pitching his material well to the specific audience and able to improvise in the moment too. The unexpected bonus last night was the addition of the outstanding BSL interpreter Donna Ruane from Theatresign.
Kay was both amused and apologetic about the material he was handing her (let's just say we're all now better informed about the signs for various body parts and their functions), but the tireless, articulate Ruane was totally unfazed, whether navigating Kay's nickname for his specialty, "Brats and Twats", or coping with a whirlwind of jargon during a super-fast riff on "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".
As the show went on, the pair evolved into a brilliant double act, with Kay feeding off Ruane's energy, and Ruane adding a visual dimension to his work - dancing along to the songs between lyrics, creating new mini-gags within his tales, and accentuating punchlines.
It was a lovely reminder that access can be a joyful addition to theatre, not a detraction, and felt very much in the spirit of Kay's show, which humanises the hard-working medical and care professionals who are treated as soft targets by cynical politicians like (boo!) Jeremy Hunt.
Kay ends on a serious note about the NHS, but the clever thing is that by then, we're already completely onside, having seen via the well-chosen diary entries how the system destroys relationships, how over-scheduling is harmful to both doctors and patients, and how the stiff-upper-lip culture contributes to mental health problems - and also means we don't always appreciate the strain on stoic NHS workers, leaving them open to Hunt-like attacks.
Hurrah for Kay, then, the extremely funny, candid and memorable voice for those in care who very much do care - and who deserve our respect, admiration and protection. His tour has so far raised over £75,000 for the Lullaby Trust, and with a new book coming out soon, Kay looks to be NHS workers' much-needed champion for some time to come. Hallelujah!