JOYCE MCMILLAN on THIS MAY HURT A BIT at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 12.4.14. __________________________________________________________
4 stars ****
THE SILENCE surrounding the creeping privatisation of the NHS in England is one of the great mysteries of current British politics, along with our UK-wide tolerance for the hugely overpriced PFI schemes that are gradually crippling NHS budgets everywhere. So it comes almost as a shock to find ex-Traverse director Max Stafford-Clark, a veteran radical of the British stage, not only tackling the subject head-on – in this new play by Stella Feehily for his Out Of Joint Company – but also doing it in good old-fashioned agitprop style.
Feehily’s play therefore combines a contemporary family story about conflicting attitudes to the NHS with broad-brush-stroke political cabaret involving the figures of Aneurin Bevan and Winston Churchill, cameo appearances by the Grim Reaper and the struggling NHS herself, and some full-on delivery of shocking statistics; the dramatic texture is undeniably uneven, sometimes too desperately even-handed in its presentation of conflicting views, sometimes flat-footed in its determination to get the facts across.
The play revolves, though, around a very fine performance from the wonderful Stephanie Cole as Iris, a 90-year-old veteran of the fight to set up the NHS, who is not giving up on it now; and as the story of her brief admission to a chaotically underfunded hospital unfolds, Feehily’s play begins to exert an ever stronger and more moving grip. This May Hurt A Bit is full of anger, despair, and the occasional collapse into “broken NHS” imagery. Yet it ends on a fine note of defiance, with Iris and her crazy, kindly nurse Gina determined to fight on, while there is still time.