Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Verbatim theatre is a type of documentary theatre, where the content reflects the voice of real life people collected and presented by performers, often using theatrical devices to aid the story telling. This piece of verbatim theatre aimed to present the thoughts and experiences of NHS staff and patients, collected presumably over Three to Four days. The performance, made up of two actors playing different characters, gave voice to the human issues between the lines of profit margins and economics and statistics and GP targets, reminding us of the essential humanness being lost in the swirl of capitalism.
The piece was performed by two actors, on a simple set, with no sound effects, and simple but clear lighting. It was effectively a tableau of characters: soliloquies from Nurses, GPs and Politians, a narrated dialogue examining the relationship between a GP and his patient, cutting from one to the other, giving voices from different perspectives of healthcare and the NHS in an interesting, simple and effective approach.
The loneliness of the GP’s patient was played out touchingly well and vividly…not giving us answers but as least revealing more questions about what medical care really is – and whether it can really be reduced to the ‘mechanics’ of the human body…can we really separate out physicality from spiritual and emotional needs…and if we do achieve this fractured approach then what does that do to the care giver themselves?
There was a truly beautiful moment when the nurse describes the death of an elderly patient…”hard bones replaced the soft innocent forming bones of a baby…now become a hard cage that the wild spirit breaks out of and flies away”…the imagery linked in well with the GP’s wish to fly free of the prison of the NHS which has become in his mind, the biggest failure of democracy in his lifetime.
The poster, title and show blurb was a little obscure and might benefit with more information for the audience in the form of a more detailed programme. It also didn’t seem to come up on the Edfringe page – it would have benefited from a clearer website for promotion. There were a couple of images that niggled slightly and didn’t quite achieve, in my opinion, the intended effect. At the beginning pennies were carefully laid out on the floor in front of empty chairs. Although this obviously makes reference to money issues in the NHS this wasn’t clear enough and didn’t round up to any thread at the end of the piece. Another issue was when the Nurse stood for 7 minutes in silence at the beginning. While this was powerful in raising the tension and focusing the attention of the audience, it became clear that the aim of this was to put the emphasis on how long 7 minutes feels like because this was the allotted time the Nurse had with each patient – this actually had the opposite of the desired effect. Watching someone standing in silence for 7 minutes feels longer than it really is! To give the intended effect of how short a time this was it would have been more effective to show the Nurse perhaps rushing around answering phone calls, picking up a few things that the patient had dropped, answering a few of their questions about meal times etc., rushing off to answer a buzzer, looking for and then reading the notes and THEN – just as she is about to start the practical and emotional ‘care’ – ding dong…times up! Something like this might have shown the time issue more profoundly and realistically.
At times the serious intonation in the monologues used by the performers became repetitive, having the effect of removing us from the urgency and immediacy of the piece – but giving space for the voices of the nurse and patient fortunately broke this up. The poetry was a very nice addition and again added depth to the performance.
Overall a good performance that with some editing and development could become a very powerful piece of verbatim theatre inspiring conversation and action. It worth seeing to gain persepctive on current issues in the NHS.