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A CurtainUp London London Review
Who Cares

"In place of fear." — Aneurin Bevan
Who Cares
Robert Bathhurst (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
The Royal Court's timely launch of Michael Wynne's play about the health service is just a few weeks before the general election which has identified the NHS as the issue that most people care about most. The promenade production starts in the alleyway between the Royal Court Theatre and Sloane Square tube station. The audience is given patient IDs and we are taken into a waiting room, where other patients wait to be seen. We travel in small groups up and down the stairs into back offices and rooms kitted out as hospital wards and consulting rooms, complete with posters and hospital signage.

Michael Wynne's script is made up of the verbatim records of interviews he carried out over 18 months with people working in the NHS. However his editing has kept the themes clear. The opening scene fills us in on the facts, 48% of people think the NHS is the UK's most important institution, the scale and scope of the health service. The NHS deals with a million patients every 36 hours.

They look at people's rising expectations: how people now expect to be cured of diseases that were killers twenty years ago. The way Accident and Emergency Services are overloaded by those turning up in ignorance with minor ailments like a cough or a cold or those who are drunk. The idea that we have a culture where immediacy is the norm; no waiting three days to be seen or trying to see if symptoms will disappear on their own.

We join three nurses Lisa (Vineeta Rishi) , Hannah (Martina Laird) and Carl (Paul Hickey) on a break and they tell us about the demands of record keeping and how lawyers will claim that without the paper work they cannot prove that something was done and the way the media relish stories about the shortcomings of the service. In a scene with General Practitioners, the front line generic doctors, they repeat the problems of resources and the misuse of their time by the disconnect of people who have no family or social support.

A consultant (Robert Bathhurst) discusses the government's incentive to GPs to test everyone over 65 for dementia. The doctor says it's a nonsense because there is no treatment for dementia and this screening will just give them the bad news early and increase anxiety. He talks about the rising costs as higher tech treatments costing thousands of pounds are invented. Again he echoes the theme that people think everything is fixable. Think about infertility and what expectations are now.

The accountants tell us how much everything costs; a doctor lectures us on junk food, exercise and lifestyle; surgeons operate on a woman's stomach with paint brushes as we hear how repainting the buildings and re-organising the hospitals is meant to make things seem better. We see the daughter of a neglected elderly woman patient (Elizabeth Berrington), whose campaign highlighted the failing of an NHS hospital and who moved home because of the threats made to her. She tells us what happened to whistleblowers on the staff of the hospital. The final scene has the health staff waltzing at a NHS party with the sound of a crashing plane. Does this sound like the opening to the TV series Lost?

Directors, Debbie Hannan, Lucy Morrison and Hamish Pirie have delivered an immersive experience with so much to think about. All the actors are believable and work very hard like their NHS counterparts. In moving through the hospital and the issues presented, I think Michael Wynne's play helps us focus on this service created in 1948 "in place of fear" when many did not consult a doctor because of the prohibitive cost. Highly recommended.

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Who Cares
Written by Michael Wynne
Directed by Debbie Hannan, Lucy Morrison and Hamish Pirie

Starring: Philip Arditti, Robert Bathhurst, Nathaniel Martello-White, Elizabeth Barrington, Paul Hickey, Martina Laird, Eileen O'Brien, Vineeta Rishi
Designer: Andrew D Edwards
Lighting: Natasha Chivers
Composer and sound: Daniel Krass
Running time: One hour 30 minutes promenade
Box Office 020 7565 5000
Booking to 16th May 2015 but sold out
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th April 2015 matinee performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1 W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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