HOME Theatre, Manchester; Friday 20th September, 2019
In July of 2018 the National Health Service celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding, having been formally launched in 1948 by the then Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan at the Park Hospital in Davyhulme (now Trafford General Hospital).
Care by ensemble theatre company The PappyShow is a powerful, moving examination of what health care has now become as well as being a speculative peek into what the uncertain future may hold for everyone.
The performance is sketch-based and seems to loosely hover around an exploration of the NHS’ founding principles – namely that it should be comprehensive, universal and free at the point of delivery.
A quick show-of-hands exercise immediately and emphatically drums home just how pervasive and deeply embedded these core notions of the NHS are. Just about everyone in the audience was born in an NHS hospital; most had recently made use of its services; and absolutely everyone expected it to be there for us when needed.
The large cast of eleven performers play out a variety of scenarios during the show. Each sketch presents some ponderous angle of surgical examination, some small attempt to make sense of what this thing is and what it represents: the viewpoint of the patient needing care; the employees who make it all happen; the ordinary members of the public / audience who fund it all through taxation.
The personalised delivery elements come across particularly well: performers share their own distinctive stories and experiences, in one case going so far as to precisely calculate what an individual’s personal spend/cost has been over their lifetime.
Care is literally presented by the actors as a series of love letters to the NHS. Despite the energetic delivery and clever mixture of spoken word, choreography and singing; the overall performance spectacle comes across as slightly lacking in emphasis. None of what was being played out on stage was ever going to be in dispute, at times it felt a little too much like a show that was preaching to the already converted.
But this mild mood of theatrical indifference was suddenly and emphatically lifted at the very end. The closing scenes feature the deeply moving experiences of those able to vividly remember life before the NHS – a genuinely terrifying world where the harsh economics of health care literally lead to the possibility of having to make inconceivable life and death decisions.
As a performance, Care therefore seems to reinforce the strange sense of inarticulable reverence towards our precious health service: we might not always be able to put our finger on why we love it so much but we are certainly clear that we can’t bear to contemplate life without it.