John Godber is known for being one of the most performed playwrights in the UK, and has strong ties to Hull. “This Might Hurt” is his latest local play and a particularly important one. It tells the tale of a personal journey through the NHS, based on Godber’s own experiences. As a medical student, I was intrigued to learn about his experiences of the NHS and how they differed from my own. The play follows the protagonist, Jack, as he navigates his own diagnosis and treatment, and subsequently the care of his Aunty Betty. The story is brought to life beautifully by an incredibly talented cast, consisting of Rob Angell, who plays Jack (and Aunty Betty!), and Josie Morley and Rachael Abbey, who together play the other 27 characters -including doctors, nurses and patients!
The first half of the play is all about Hull. Our amazing hospitals, Hull Royal and Castle Hill, saved Godber’s life when he suffered a pulmonary embolism, and the protagonist's declaration that “The NHS saved my life!” prompts cheers from audiences and a mini fist bump from myself! Here, Godber describes an NHS that is relentless and never gives up on a patient. You might have to go through waiting lists, GP appointments, referrals, blood tests, scans, letters, bus journeys, and in the case of Hull Royal, many, many stairs; but all this and more is free at the point of need! Godber cleverly celebrates diversity in the NHS through comedy, and by the end of the first half your jaw aches from laughing. From nurses who can’t pronounce doctors’ names to patients who smoke in front of no smoking signs outside the hospital; key themes of immigration, BREXIT, patient expectations, and gossip from the visitors are all played out for our amusement.
The relationship between Jack and his Aunty Betty is a main focus throughout the play. This is something everyone can relate to and you can’t help but think about your own relationships with elderly relatives both past and present. The second half of the play centres on this relationship and explores the important issue of end of life care, a vital part of our health service. We meet a wide variety of healthcare professionals: junior doctors, night nurses, community nurses, Macmillan nurses, healthcare workers, locum doctors… all involved in the care of Aunty Betty at the end of her life. This is where Godber strips the NHS bare and exposes its strengths and weaknesses as he experienced it. He shows us some of the limitations these healthcare professionals have.
At the beginning of the play, the protagonist announces they will make us laugh, feel frustrated and a bit angry, but that it was not their intention to make us sad. But health and illness goes hand in hand with sadness and loss. It is difficult to talk about an illness without someone in the audience remembering the loss of a loved one, and sniffles could be heard from the crowd as Aunty Betty’s diagnosis dawned upon them. The second half of Godber’s play shows an NHS I’m not familiar with; the NHS I know provides good quality care and is resilient in doing so. This part of the play made me angry, because no one should experience the situation Godber shows us in this heart-breaking account of Aunty Betty’s suffering and Jack’s despair.
The comedic first half never gives you a hint of the immense drama to come after the interval. Once it arrives we are all taken aback as we expect more comedy but Godber uses the audience’s attention to tell his story and emphasise his message about the NHS – without funding, training, and resources, our brilliant NHS will crumble, and more people’s experiences might mirror Aunty Betty’s story. “This Might Hurt” is a play with hidden and explicit messages about the NHS. I would thoroughly recommend you see it, whether you are a healthcare professional or a service user. It questions our ideas about the NHS and asks us to recognise its importance. It is a wonderful way of exploring the good and the bad in our health service, and offers a chance for us to share our own experiences with others afterwards. Above all it applauds the caring nature of people and their vocation, but shows how challenges faced by the NHS might result in poor patient experience. We are all only human, after all.
This Might Hurt runs at StephenJoseph Theatre, Scarborough, Monday 14th November – Saturday 19th November. If you hurry, you just might catch it!
Many thanks to Vicki Taylor, Communications Officer at Hull Truck Theatre, for organising the opportunity for HYMS Student Blog to attend “This Might Hurt” at Hull Truck Theatre.
All photos (c) Amy Charles Media.