Home Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 20th July 2017
Gastroenterology: the branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the stomach and intestines. A serious and weighty topic, and certainly not an obvious choice for theatre, yet patient-turned-performer Liz Richardson takes it on and delivers an amusing and illuminating portrayal of her personal experiences in a no-holds-barred account of exactly what went wrong with her bodily functions.
Liz recalls her story through the words of some of the extravagant characters she’s come across during her illness. We meet the likes of Morphine Tits and Old Elsie – fellow patients in the hospital ward; Nurse Whale who tries to offer advice and words of comfort; and then there is the star of the show: Stoma – a new and unwelcome bodily orifice who turns out to be a surprisingly vulnerable and emotionally fragile sort of being.
Liz also tells her story in her own words, at one point there is a highly educational anatomy lesson where she helpfully draws out technical diagrams directly onto her own torso. The stigma and awkwardness surrounding the use and function of colostomy bags is instantly blown away as the true facts of the matter are revealed.
But just as important as the science lesson is the human story – letters and Get Well Soon cards from friends and family are read out by random audience members, each plucked from their seats and lured onto the stage by Liz’s generous offer of cupcakes and beer. This may just have been a good-old-fashioned bit of audience participation in the theatre, but it seemed to have a more profound effect in the context of the subject matter being presented – seeing a random member of the audience stuttering through someone else’s personal message raised the question of what you could possibly say to someone who’s having such drastic surgery to save their life – or even what our own friends and family might say if it were to happen to us?
From the operating theatre to actually performing in a theatre – Gutted is an incredibly personal and honest show about a life-changing experience that most of us will hopefully never have to deal with. But if it does happen, there won’t be much you can do about it, and at that point it might just be best to do what Liz has – try to see the funny side of it.