As I approached the St. James Theatre in London I was struck by the huge crowds of people who were gathered outside on that sunny Friday evening. Wow, what a turn out I thought, before I realised they were just an overspill from the pub next door to the theatre!
So it was with a certain degree of trepidation that I entered the theatre, praying that there were some audience members inside. Well I need not have worried. First person I spied was Sir Ian McKellan, swiftly followed by Alan Rickman and Simon Callow. The buzz in the theatre foyer was palpable. The question for me though was whether the buzz was due to the presence of the great and the good from the acting fraternity, or was it for this much talked about play?
The play itself is a triumph. It gives us some of the background and history of the formation of the NHS back in 1948 and brings us up to the present day as we follow the struggles of NHS staff as witnessed by a family whose mother (played by Stephanie Cole of Tenko fame) is rushed into hospital after waiting over an hour for an ambulance.
From understaffing on the wards, to blood on the ceilings because of the cutbacks in cleaning contracts, we see that the NHS is sick and needs some serious medicine soon! The basic message being, "if you love the NHS why are you not angry?"
The play was inspired by Stella's own experience of the NHS when her husband Max had a stroke. Having been around in the aftermath of that terrible time, I recognised many of the points in the story that were actually true to life. However, so hilarious were these moments in the play, I believe most of the audience probably thought they were created by the writer for comic effect.
And comic it is. As much as the play is a sad indictment of the current state of the NHS, it turns out laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, touching and strident.
It's a rollercoaster ride of play, as all great plays are. Please go and see it, trust me, it won't hurt a bit!
This May Hurt A Bit runs at St.James Theatre London until 31st May.
Box Office: 0844 264 2140 | www.stjamestheatre.co.uk