Alan Bleasdale's farrago of a play was premiered in 1980 and has since undergone at least two re-writes. I should like to report that the patient, unlike one of the characters in the drama, survived the operation - but alas no. Whether this is supposed to be a farce, biting social commentary or something else entirely, only Mr Bleasdale can determine. I personally opt for the something else entirely.
The drama, or what there is of it, is set in and around an operating room in a private clinic which operates on the ‘pile 'em high, sell 'em not-so cheap’ principle. Vasectomies and cosmetic surgery are performed on a revolving door basis, with the operations conducted by Sarah Berger’s callous, arrogant surgeon.
The waiting room is occupied by the nervous, insecure Lenny, Ritchie, and Malcolm, the latter accompanied by his dipso wife Sarah Crowe. Lenny, so far as I can tell, is barking mad and spends half the play naked and talking loudly about nothing in particular. Colin Campbell plays him, well, appropriately. Ritchie (Matt Andrews), was Lenny's nemesis at school and Lennie now takes revenge by humiliating him. Malcolm (Robert Duncan), who at the beginning of Act 1 is proclaimed to be the Chairman of an NHS Trust, ends up exposed as being in the business of depositing toxic waste in Derbyshire. There’s also a bolshie male nurse -Malcolm Ridley- who is leaving private medicine for the NHS.
There are half-hearted attempts to discuss public-v-private medicine, social responsibility and other issues close to Bleasdale's heart, but these wither on the vine of a stream of jokes featuring - needless to say - balls, prunes, plums and a variety of other genitally challenged quips.
The characters run, dive and hide behind various doors but the play’s fatal flaw is that no sooner is the audience enjoying something out of Carry on Nurse, then the whole thing grinds to a halt for a moment of dramatic pretension. Making a late cameo appearance, Michael Medwin enters as a Hell's Grandad. He does an amusing ten minutes, and then drops dead.
Fault cannot be laid at the door of director David Grindley, who keeps the thing going at a fair pace; nor can responsibility be levelled at designer Tim Shortall, whose suitably sanitised (and convincing) setting at least makes the play easy on the eye. Bleasdale should take a hint from one of his own characters and put his hands up. This piece is not worthy of him, nor the hard working cast.
Apparently, the producers (who include the Birmingham Repertory Theatre), are aiming for the West End. I'll believe it when I see it.
Stephen Gilchrist (reviewed at Bromley Churchill Theatre)