A couple of years ago you may remember a big campaign to ‘save’ the NHS from government reforms that would pave the way for creeping privatisation and, some warned, lead to the break-up of our health service as we know it. Then it all went a bit quiet (bar local campaigns around specific issues, like closing or downgrading hospitals). This May Hurt A Bit is here to point out that’s not because the campaigners ‘won’: the Health and Social Care Bill went ahead, and it wants to know why we’re still not angry about it.
Stella Feehily’s play tries hard to be even-handed, even though it’s always clear the writer sits firmly on the ‘hands off the NHS’ side of the debate. A family’s health problems are interwoven with appearances and speeches by Winston Churchill and founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan, and fourth-wall breaking explanations of PFI and cuts. The play doesn’t shy away from the grimmer side of the NHS: waiting times, understaffed wards, general chaos, but contrasts the public system sharply with the colder, harder representatives of private health. And in the end, the play asks, are the problems of the NHS because it’s fundamentally rubbish or because it’s being systematically starved of funds and dismantled? Wouldn’t you rather, it prods you to conclude, put up with the NHS’s foibles and a staff that are capable and care, than be bled dry by private firms who only care about your money?
It’s a weighty and unwieldy subject and, perhaps because of this, the play jumps between scenes of intense black humour and others that feel rather heavy-handed. Passion is to be encouraged; lecturing the audience is not (that said, the play’s worth seeing for the graph of PFI-created debt alone). Casting highlight is Stephanie Cole: is there anything finer than watching her in full-on cantankerous mode? But we were also pleased to see Hywel Morgan adding another politician to his repertoire, following his excellent channeling of Tony Blair in A Walk On Part a few years back. Slight lack of deftness aside, This May Hurt A Bit is entertaining and you’ll probably learn a lot.
This May Hurt A Bit is on at the St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, SW1, until 21 June. Tickets £5-£34. Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary press ticket.