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Posts Tagged ‘Sacha Dhawan’

Alan Bennett’s last play, People, at the NT six years ago, was about the heritage ‘industry’. It tried to cover so many issues that it lost focus and proved a bit of a disappointment. He covers a lot of ground here too, but it’s more cohesive, a homage to the NHS with a swipe at the decline in our sense of social responsibility for good measure.

We’re in a Yorkshire general hospital, led by trust chairman and former Mayor Slater, that’s facing closure. They’re campaigning against it, and in the geriatric ward they’ve set up a choir as part of the campaign. There’s an omnipresent film documentary team, which Slater hopes will aid their campaign. Dr Valentine (anglicisation of his real name) is a caring doctor with a gentle bedside manner and genuine affection for his geriatric patients, but he’s facing deportation. Sister Gilcrest is old school, obsessed with continence and cleanliness. Nurse Pinkney is more focused on contentment and happiness. The real interest of Salter is his own career. Amongst the visitors, patient Mrs Maudsley’s family are predatory fortune hunters and coal-miner Joe’s son Colin is up from London, exorcising his fraught relationship with his dad; he’s a Management Consultant advising the Health Minister, an architect of closure plans. Just before the interval it takes a sinister turn.

Bennett’s acute observation of people shines again with finely drawn characterisations, delicious turns of phrase and a very clever unfolding narrative. I couldn’t stop smiling at the new ward names, changed at the suggestion of the minister. The twelve geriatric patients each have lovely back stories, which they share with us between songs. Our attitudes to the old, patient abuse, bed blocking and the obsession with targets, specialisation, outsourcing and privatisation are all covered. Of course, its very funny, but its also poignant and bang on target much of the time. Valentine’s final words direct to the audience pierced my heart.

The twelve patients are a delight, veteran thespians relishing such great writing. Deborah Findlay is brilliant as the cold but seemingly loyal, hard-working ward sister who becomes positively chilling. Sacha Dhawan has genuine warmth and empathy as Valentine. Samuel Barnett’s character Colin is rather unsympathetic, but he spars with Jeff Rawle’s brittle dad and both do eventually melt. There’s a lovely cameo from David Moorst as work experience affable Andy, who also turns unexpectedly. Peter Forbes makes a great job of the pompous self regarding Salter. Director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley have worked with Bennett a lot, and they continue to serve his plays well.

I think the play divides people in many ways, with older audience members, NHS advocates and lefties the most positive. I loved it!

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To those of you not in the know (including me) it stands for Not Safe For Work – ‘online material which the viewer may not want to be seen accessing in a public or formal setting – such as at work’ but the play isn’t about that, so I’m not sure why that’s its title!

In the first scene we’re in the office of  lads mag Doghouse where everything is as you would expect – tackiness & tits, people being bullied and / or patronised. They’ve just published the best nude female ‘reader’ picture selected from 900 competition entries and they’re rather pleased with them selves – until it starts to unravel (the detail of which would be an epic spoiler). In the second scene, the issues are explored in a ‘negotiation’  between the editor and an aggrieved party in the presence of assistant Charlotte, who feelings are clearly at odds with her participation.

In the third scene we move to another magazine altogether – up-market ladies mag Electra – where the editor is interviewing Sam, an ex-employee of Doghouse. Electra is just as patronising but the bullying becomes more subtle power games. Editor Miranda describes her publication’s mission and values to Sam and lays out what will be expected of him should she decide to appoint him; not all of which is easy for Sam (or us) to stomach.

This behind-the-scenes glimpse at publishing, well this type of publishing, enables playwright Lucy Kirkwood to explore a number of interesting issues and she does so in entertaining fashion – and it’s a lot more topical than she probably thought it was when she wrote it!

The first scene is somewhat slight and clunky and the actors didn’t seem entirely comfortable at the performance I attended, but the second and third are a huge improvement – the second due to the power of the discussion / negotiation and the exceptional performance of Kevin Doyle as indignant Mr Bradshaw and the third due to cleverly written power play and a simply brilliant pairing of Janine Dee as the editor and Sacha Dhawan as the hapless but deeply sympathetic Sam.

This isn’t up there with some of the recent main house hits like Jerusalem, Posh and The Heretic, but it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking 90 minutes.

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