This may be coming soon to a multiplex near you, Alan Bennett’s latest play. Set in the geriatric ward of a North of England hospital, it’s a barbed ‘celebration’ of Britain’s National Health Service, of which Mr B. is a staunch defender.
The hospital is earmarked for closure and replacement by a new one in a nearby city which will not have a designated geriatric ward (many hospitals already do not).
Supervised by 25-year veteran Sister Gilchrist (Deborah Findlay), the ward is full of chronic cases, including a few with dementia. Run like a care home, the patients (and staff!) are encouraged to break into song at regular intervals. Visiting from the Ministry of Health is Colin (Samuel Barnett whom we remember from The History Boys). The ward’s doctor is Valentine (Sacha Dhawan, another handsome History Boy, also remembered from TV’s Last Tango in Halifax). One of the patients is Simon Williams, whose past history includes the less than gallant James Bellamy in the 1970s run of Upstairs, Downstairs; Simon is still roguishly handsome at 72.
At the end of Act One Sister Gilchrist is revealed to have her own ruthless way of unblocking beds. Despite taking a dark turn, the play remains broadly comic and filled with nostalgic musical numbers. The elderly cast members perform as energetically as the youngsters. Not in the same league as History Boys or The Madness of King George, this is nevertheless another fine piece of theatre from Mr Bennett, whose talent is undimmed at 84. We are promised more to come from our theatrical ‘National Treasure’.
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View forthcoming screenings of stage plays at www.ntlive.com