Review: This Might Hurt, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Josie Morley and Ron Angell in This Might Hurt
Josie Morley and Ron Angell in This Might Hurt

Only an idiot with bottomless pockets could fail to acknowledge the benefits of the National Health Service. Many of us know that we owe our lives to its continuing existence.

But our appreciation does not mean that the system is either perfect or beyond criticism.

This is the gist of the title and storyline of John Godber’s new play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough.

This Might Hurt is both the nurse’s caution to a patient as a cannula is inserted and also a warning to the audience to prepare for a harrowing tale which is critical of aspects of our much-loved institution.

Central to the play is the bravura performance of Robert Angell as Jack and as Aunty Betty. He inhabits her character simply by donning a headscarf. There are no Les Dawson-type caricatures here, but a dignified portrayal of an indomitable spirit.

In the first half of the play, Aunty Betty makes a six-bus round trip to visit Jack when he is ill in hospital, only for her to fall victim to cancer herself and Jack has to step in as her carer.

The substance of John Godber’s criticism begins here as regulation and waste blight Aunty Betty’s final days.

She has major and minor scenes that will live long in the memory. My favourite of the latter variety has Jack thanking a doctor so profusely it becomes embarrassing. We have all done it.

Rachael Abbey and Josie Morley play the bewildering kaleidoscope of minor characters, 27 in all, that contribute to the themes and satire of the play.

Two smokers in hospital hover by a door to ‘get some fresh air’; two hapless carers can’t lift Aunty Betty into bed because they are not qualified; a nurse cannot accept the return of expensive drugs, they will have to go to the council waste tip.

The play has an unbalanced feel as the second half clearly overrides the mood of the first and some of the jokes fall curiously flat.

Robert Angell’s opening disclaimer that the play’s intention is not to make us sad has to be mendacious as we witness the system fail Aunty Betty and she dies in agony. On the other hand, I wonder if anyone with a dying relative could ever feel that the care has been good enough.

This Might Hurt runs until Saturday. Performances are Thursday November 17 at 1.30pm and 7pm, Friday November 18 at 7.30pm and Saturday November 19 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.