Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Drip, Drip, Drip” which he saw on tour at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn.
This is a much more exciting and imaginative piece of theatre that is substantially more entertaining than the under-selling publicity suggests. True, they trot out many of the familiar ills bedevilling modern society in general and the NHS in particular…but in a very original and stimulating way…at turns rumbustiously farcical, but also sensitively poignant.
It’s Jon Welch’s writing that sets the tone. Not only does it play truculently with our emotions, he’s also pretty merciless with tradition theatrical conventions.
At first we appear to be attending a rather unpleasant lecture by Professor Jeffs, an ageing, unreconstructed English fascist who is somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan. But, with subtle use of soundscapes, whirling screens and expertly intercut episodes, he is transposed into a pressurised hospital ward where he is terminally ill and evidently addled by morphine….but where he refuses to let go of his racist views; despite the colour of the skin of his carers.
The dark humour comes from the acerbic absurdity of the lecturer’s tirade and the way the veteran actor has the audacity to criticise the theatre company for which he is now working; “Pipeline Theatre – nobody’s ever heard of it”. It’s a duality which is, perhaps, occasionally laboured, but which beautifully opens out the play for the audience to appreciate how horrifically ridiculous many real-life hospital situations have become.
His subject matter is Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician, who championed the Nazi euthanasia programme. He was hanged after the Nuremberg Trials, but not before he could father a son who later became a medical missionary to single mothers in Eritrea. Welch cleverly collides these two stands of storyline when an Eritrean migrant is recruited to care for the tyrannical Professor.
Other painful hospital issues arise. The breaking point of staff, pressure-cooker politics, and assisted dying (which is, perversely, what Brandt was on about in first place). It’s a mesmerising mosaic of very uncomfortable questions, laced with ‘Casualty’ chaos, and ‘Holby City’ humour.
The scenes are short and snappy but the play’s through-lines raise the evening way above the status of a satirical sketch show. Having painstakingly built up staff relationships as the play progresses, the most chilling climax is when racism threatens them again.
Jeffs abuses his highly conscientious, female African melanoma consultant -who lodges a complaint. The arbitration panel comprises of two of her peers who are inevitably white, and male. It’s a scene which actually made me angry. They all get on fine on the ward…but are back peddled into prejudicial positions by the complaint. Inevitably, all three start drowning in a politically correct whirlpool from which they can’t escape. The casualty here is common sense….which seems to play no part in our Government’s attitude to the NHS.
There are five very fine performances here. Shereener Brown (a Barrister by training) is outstandingly empathetic as the seasoned staff nurse cajoling Jeff into compliance. She swaps back and forth to Dr Adebayo, the brilliant new consultant on the block, who has a lot to learn about surviving in a rundown hospital. Here, she pulls at the hearts strings as she strives for integrity. Browne balances the two roles superbly, which makes Welch’s decision to let the delusionary Professor Jeffs point out its the same actor playing both parts all the funnier.
The same is true of Claudius Peters who is a street wise but dying patient one minute – and the retiring, uncertain refugee ward assistant the next. The irony here is that he is so universally caring, he gets his marching orders
Playing the white men are Benjamin Dyson and Alan Munden – who put in excellently nuanced performances as doctors doing their best in the maelstrom – and Titus Adam as the off-the-wall Professor Jeffs, who stitches the play together by moaning directly to the audience. It’s a challenging performance that doesn’t half get up your nose.
This is adventurous programming by Theatre Severn, which was rewarded by a healthy sized, and acutely appreciative, audience. I, personally, have never seen anything quite like it before. Don’t let the bumph deter you. Go see it.