Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Laugh - you could have died

Folly on a trolley? Now is confusion worse confounded in the Swan Theatre Amateur Company's production of the John Chapman farce, Nil By Mouth.

Nil By Mouth

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


THERE'S a nice line in the programme. It gives the cast  “(in order of non-appearance)” and features only Mr Whittaker. We don't see Mr Whittaker until the final curtain, by which time we have heard him scream intermittently to ear-piercing effect, in the offstage hands of Ian Mason. 

Meanwhile, for the first few minutes of the onstage action, I was convinced that John Chapman's hospital farce was not really worthy of the hard-working cast in Tim Crow's production. Fortunately, it quickly catches up with our hopes, with idiosyncratic patients and noisy, bustling staff ensuring that we have the fun that we always expect from Mr Chapman. 

Just don't let anybody leave you to the mercies of St Christopher's Hospital, somewhere in London, when it's a Saturday afternoon with a shortage of staff and a mix-up of patients' armbands. 

At St Christopher's, every ward is named after a poet – which is why a patient named Keats does not exactly stem the incipient possibilities of confusion in Wordsworth ward. The patient is Evelyn Keats – anxious, noisy and suffering from early Alzheimer's. She is the responsibility of Michelle Whitfield, who rises admirably to the challenges she presents. 

Among the staff with the misfortune to be looking after her are Sister Roughton (Jennie Davies), a maelstrom of bustling authority, Sister Downing (Susan Smith), Nurse Dolores (Saada Westbury) and a chipper Antipodean half-pint called Nurse Pamela (Jess Hirst). Chris Read is the ever-brisk Dr Chandler, seemingly the only doctor on duty. Together, this is a team that displays efficiency in the face of the probabilities. 

Evelyn's husband is Hilary Keats, who adds initial confusion by being a doctor, but a doctor of divinity. He is played by Andy Brown and here we have the stand-out character, a memorable cross between actor Derek Nimmo and the former scientific television personality Magnus Pyke – prone to walk with one shoulder seemingly ahead of the other and revelling in a highly individual delivery that sounds like a talkative yawn. This is a joyful performance, featuring having his head banged by a door, causing his resultant belief that he has tried conclusions with a goalpost while playing rugby. 

Malc Williams provides a highly vocal patient, William Graham, who leaps to the forefront of our awareness late on, to excellent effect. 

Andrew Whittle turns up as the man from the ministry on a mission of inspection in a ward that is rife with misunderstandings and prone to reap the harvest that results. 

Fiona Thomas, Jason Moseley and Alan Wollaston put noble shoulders to the wheel of St Christopher confusion. 

It may not do much to restore our faith in the NHS, but it does provide laughter, the best medicine. 

To 18-02-12.

John Slim 

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