Feehily’s drama was inspired by the expertise of her partner, the director Max Stafford-Clark, who suffered a stroke in 2006 and has staged this production. Tim Shortall’s set suggests a generic NHS ward, but the opening scenes involve not patients or medical employees, but politicians. Aneurin Bevan (Hywel Morgan) seems first, wittily advocating the establishment of a national wellness services in 1948. Then the scene adjustments to 2011 and a PMQs briefing with a Tory Prime Minister about to defend the Overall health and Social Care Bill, whose proposed reforms his senior civil servant describes – abandoning diplomatic circumlocution – as “utter bollocks”.
Fast-forward again to 2014 and a consulting space at the Harrington Hospital, the place Nicholas, a mild-mannered sixtysomething, is undergoing a prostate examination with a consultant, who airily tells him that he sees “a whole lot of prime politicians. They all go personal of program …”
The Harrington is clearly in difficulties: wall posters urging respect and dignity make an ironical contrast with an atmosphere of frantic disorder. But it is when Nicholas’s mom, Iris, a doughty old bird with a passionate belief in the NHS, suffers a stroke that a note of bitter surrealism creeps in.
Iris is sharing a ward with a lately expired corpse and John, a vicar who has lost the capacity to communicate. Caring for them is Gina, a humane but beleaguered nurse of indeterminate nationality, who struggles to fulfil the unattainable demands of her task. Meanwhile Nicholas and his sister, Mariel, the wife of an American medical professional, carry out a furious bedside debate about the cost-free industry in health care.
Feehily’s perform runs on a substantial-octane fuel of pure rage. The targets of its scattergun fury contain not just the Coalition government but New Labour, Margaret Thatcher (characterised as a chirpy budgie in a cage) and even Winston Churchill.
Stafford-Clark’s taut direction keeps the drama’s wordy ire elegantly underneath control and there are powerful performances from Tristram Wymark as the agonised vicar, John (piquantly doubling the part with that of Churchill), and Natalie Lamar as nurse Gina. Stephanie Cole breaks our hearts with Iris’s mixture of gallantry and pathos.
How a lot you get pleasure from the perform will rely on the extent to which you agree with Feehily’s analysis of the political concerns: hers is a style that unashamedly subordinates the medium to the message. Love it or dislike it, this is a production that faithfully fulfils the guarantee of its title.
Until Apr 5, then touring right up until June 21. Tickets: 01204 520661 octagonbolton.co.united kingdom
IN Images: SIR IAN McKELLEN AND SIR PATRICK STEWART TWEET Photos OF THEMSELVES IN NEW YORK