Every now and again an event comes along that stops you dead in your tracks. It either shifts your perception of what you thought was true; or reminds you that you’ve taken something for granted for too long. On this night, in Manchester, that event was Care.
Last year the National Health Service turned 70-years-old. For me, it’s always been there. The NHS just exists. In short, it’s something I’ve taken for granted. Is this thinking typical? The Pappy Show’s production of Care turns this perceived apathy on its head.
The strap-line for this piece, if it had one, would be that it’s a love letter to the National Health Service. The cast looks to be 10 or 12 strong with an even blend of male to female performers. If I had to guess only one or two are over the age of 30. This is what makes this so remarkable. On the whole, the cast are, by their own admission, in the first phase of their lives. Normally this age group is defined by their hedonistic individualism, fuelled by clubbing and boxset binge-watching fests. Instead (or in-spite) of this, the cast has put together a mature and sensitive journey that captures the monumental impact and significance of the NHS.
The piece lasts an hour and starts as it ends. In the first act the cast stand in line and take turns to step forward and share the name of the hospital where they were born; the time of their birth and their weight. As we end, the same cast members (now mentally much older) share how they’d like to die – the journey within the NHS taken full circle.
In-between there are approximately five love letters to the NHS. They’re delivered as a soliloquy – an unreferenced scrap of paper held in hand. During these moments we edge ever closer to the human face of this institution, we learn for example, 30 years after its inception, the NHS model was used as the blueprint for the Italian health care system. We learn that when patients arrive in need of assistance, the staff don’t see race, gender or class. We are all simply individuals in need of care.
By far, for me, the most poignant letter was the second one, read with gritty northern effect. We the audience are asked to participate – a notion that normally fills me with dread. However, in this instance the participation had purpose. We’re asked to raise our hands if: we’ve visited a GP in the last year? Has anyone been hospitalised in the last year? Had surgery in the last year? How many would expect to receive this treatment for free? All hands point skyward. We’re then asked the killer question – how many of us have donated blood, bone marrow in the last year or are registered organ donors? The majority of hands fall. Silence.
The thread that holds the piece together is Selda Yildiz’s narration which is impassioned and focused. With her stewardship we’re guided through the nuanced capillaries of duty and responsibility the NHS delivers for each of us, every hour of every day – 365 days a year.
Kane Husband’s direction sweeps us seamlessly between choreographed dance routines both in pairs and ensemble; and a repeating rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’. The song appears several times and its deconstructed piano accompaniment make the piece barely recognisable. It’s haunting and supports the dance inter-play displayed on stage.
The show navigates between part non-partisan party political broadcast and a fly-on-the-wall expose, whilse still not taking itself too seriously. Its objective is to remind us what an uncompromising gem we have in the NHS. For those looking for humour, this is delivered in spades but the two show stopping scenes have to go to the 8-year-old with a frozen face and the toilet brush scene. People will talk about these scenes for days.
Anyone who has the good fortune to stumble on to this show will have learned a lot and they’ll be transported along on an emotional journey that’s both educational (without being too preachy) and celebratory. This offering from the Orbit festival is a real find. I may have taken the NHS for granted but, not anymore! I’ll be writing my own love letter and donating.★ ★ ★ ★