Not Quite Right, a play about the NHS, hits the right buttons

Gary Coyle

On 26 November, I attended a performance of Not Quite Right, a topical play about the NHS at the Bridewell Theatre put on by the Menagerie Theatre Company. For a short play it covered many important issues: the overstretched, underfunded NHS, the trauma of physical illness and the strain it can bring to a relationship, mental ill health and poor communication between services. Using only basic props, the play was packed with emotion and conveyed strong messages about people struggling to deal with trauma and highlighted some of the weaknesses of hospital services.

The opening scene depicts problems that occur when trying to book an appointment with the GP after a man becomes unwell – “he’s not quite right”. We next see ambulance staff arriving at the house. They deal professionally with the man and his stressed wife, Meena, who is also coping with anxiety issues. Meena makes her own way to the hospital after finding somebody to take care of the dog. She arrives at the hospital and finds her husband on the stroke unit. This induces a panic attack.

Wit was interspersed throughout the play and came across very naturally, without detracting from the seriousness of the themes. The couple laughing over the inflatable trousers that Chris must wear to help with blood clots shows humour. The lack of communication between the hospital and the GP highlights the kind of inefficiencies that often occur between different areas of the NHS.

Active audience

The play was an example of ‘forum theatre’, where the audience is asked to get involved with the performance. In this case, the question and answer session between the actors and the audience helped to highlight some of the problems that were depicted in the play. Audience members were given the opportunity of taking on the actors’ parts and changing the story to show how things could have been handled better. One of the themes questioned by the audience was the failure of the doctor to signpost Meena to other agencies for help and support.

Research by the theatre company before the script was developed involved a wide range of interviews with ambulance drivers, GP receptionists and people who have lived experienced of mental health problems. We read early drafts of the script and gave our opinions on what worked well and what needed to be added to give a true depiction of mental ill health.

It was gratifying to see everyone’s efforts come together on the night. The actors were convincing in their portrayal of the characters and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the play. Our changes were all taken on board, including the last minute ones suggested at the dress rehearsal. This gave us a sense of validation that our opinions were useful too. With only minimal props and just three actors, the play delivered a powerful statement about conditions within the NHS.

Not Quite Right was co-hosted by the McPin Foundation and the THIS Institute. You can read more about McPin’s involvement here.