This May Hurt A Bit

This May Hurt A Bit

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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Neil Cooper

It's a strange sensation, hearing an actor open Max Stafford-Clark's production of Stella Feehily's impassioned call to arms to save the NHS with Socialist firebrand Aneurin Bevan's speech that launched this most treasured of institutions in 1948.

A politician with ideals and integrity is such a rarity these days that it can't help but sound heroic. That is also true of watching a piece of theatrical agit-prop, a form that not that long ago was considered to be passe, but which now appears to have been reborn for the age of austerity with a vigorous sense of righteous urgency.

This is with good cause, as Feelihy proves in the play's central tale of one family's travails after their 90-year-old mother Iris has a stroke.

A sadly familiar story of over-crowded and understaffed hospital wards is punctuated by a series of sketch-like interludes, as Bevan and Winston Churchill step out of the audience to form a double act, and a weather girl points out exactly where all the health cuts have been made. Even Death himself makes a cameo appearance.

Drawn from extensive interviews with hospital patients and staff, as well as first-hand experience, Feelihy, Stafford-Clark and an eight-strong cast led by Stephanie Cole as Iris, have produced a damning indictment of a government that puts corporate interests before saving lives that is both funny and full of bemused rage.

When one character steps out to ask the audience "Why aren't people angry?", the silence may be deafening, but the way Westminster's current occupants are going, it should not be that way for long.