The good news is that, thanks to St James’ benevolent advance sales policy, tickets for this cost just a fiver each. The bad news is that they were a rip-off. Even at knock down prices, the auditorium was less than a third full, giving rise to suspicions that other theatregoers are connected to better grapevines than mine and had picked up on the news that this would be a stinker. At the end of a really poor week of theatre, it may seem appropriate that I should end up in a NHS hospital, seated almost on the linoleum floor. In fact, the set is the most realistic feature of this production. Stella Feehily’s terminally ill play is a mish-mash of theatrical styles, ranging from sombre drama to surreal comedy; it is something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Carry on Nurse on the set of Casualty. But, sadly, it is the kind of drama to make us laugh and the kind of comedy to make us weep. The plot involves a nonagenarian lady (Stephanie Cole) who suffers a fall and is taken to hospital by her son (Brian Protheroe) who has already been diagnosed with prostate cancer; every plot contrivance that follows is designed to make an unsubtle point about a health service that is on its knees. Guest appearances by Winston Churchill, Aneurin Bevan and the Grim Reaper fail to awaken our interest, breaks in the play for cast members to give us factual lectures fail to convince us and a couple of bizarre musical numbers fail to liven things up in a production that goes onto life support within five minutes of starting. The central tenet, which is rammed home with a sledgehammer over and over again, is that the NHS should remain rooted in the socialist ideology of the 1940s, unchanged, whatever the cost. However, it hardly matters that the messages are nonsensical, because any political view advanced is sure to become discredited by association when something is as bad as this. Finally (I cannot bear to write much more about it), it needs to be asked whether there are grounds for a prosecution under the Trades Description Act. This play hurts A LOT.
Performance date: 23 May2014