cast line up

Is there a doctor in the house? Rachael Abbey, Rob Angell and Josie Morley Picture: Amy Charles Media

This Might Hurt

Derby Theatre

*****

IT IS an often quoted fact that John Godber is one of the most performed writers in the English Language.

His pin point observations on the lives of the working class clearly strike a chord in audiences who recognise and relate to the stories being told. It’s sometimes as simple as that.

Though political observations are often made throughout his huge body of work, Godber steers clear of writing full on ‘political plays’. There is no biased ranting, simply honest depictions of real life challenges. Hard hitting and perhaps uncomfortable at times, but always designed to promote debate rather than lead it.

This Might Hurt keeps to a familiar Godber template. Simple staging; actors ‘multi-roling’; direct address to the audience and a mix of naturalistic, physical and stylised theatre.

It’s a million miles from the cosy but unchallenging ‘ them and us ‘ scenario of traditional theatre etiquette. Just as Brecht, a writer Godber admires, would have liked it, in fact.

The play’s central character, Jack (played with measured sensitivity by Robert Angell) is an actor who’s been in Casualty and a German Sausage advert - among other things.

A niggling back problem takes him to hospital and a series of encounters and consultations ensue as the prognosis worsens. His next of kin, Aunt Bet, (also played by Angell) puts aside her age and infirmity to regularly visit him, a round trip of more than 100 miles and on six buses. Before long, Aunt Bet is also on the receiving end of treatment.

Alongside the two central characters, an assortment of doctors, nurses, carers and NHS practitioners diagnose, assist, advise and frustrate as the story, and the symptoms, progress.

Rachael Abbey and Josie Morley work their surgical socks off to create an array of distinctive, separate characters. All are ‘real’ and crucially avoid stereotype. Many provide the comedy that is prevalent throughout (it is, after all, a John Godber play).

Laughs come loudest at scenes that make an audience think ‘I’ve seen that happen!’ Patients smoking outside in an effort to ‘get some fresh air’ and the inability to pronounce an Egyptian Doctor’s name are good examples here.

Act 2 sets a different tone. As the play develops and the system’s failings are exposed, there is a real sense of sadness and frustration. Here is a much loved institution being stretched and unable to provide for people as it wants to.

Under staffed, underfunded and over worked, it simply can’t cope. Carers and nurses are told they are ‘not allowed’ to help even when that help is clearly and desperately needed. Godber is very much on the side of the NHS, he is simply reminding us of the frailties of the system.

At the beginning of the play, Jack steps downstage to introduce himself and to tell the audience that whatever they may see or feel, it is ‘just a play’. At the end, he tells us that he wishes it wasn’t. There can’t have been many in the audience who would disagree.

At times, the writing is beautifully phrased. The use of rhyming verse adds to the power and poignancy of the words. Cleverly here, the rhyme is used in dialogue as well as monologue. It works to huge effect on both levels.

Funny, frustrating and sometimes heart breaking, this is another power house play from one of our most prolific modern writers. It should be on prescription.

Directed by John Godber, This Might Hurt runs to Saturday 24th September.

Tom Roberts

20-09-2016 

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