Mark Thomas: Check-Up – Our NHS @ 70
- Jay Richardson
- 12 April 2019
Life and death theatrical comedy about health care
Mark Thomas' recent shows have successfully blended stand-up with a type of multi-voice, immersive folk theatre. Check-Up – Our NHS @ 70 is a continuation of this trend. The son of a midwife, the activist comedian claims a personal connection to the National Health Service. But, as he's at pains to reiterate, society, taxation and class have always been intertwined with its successes and failures, so everyone has a stake. And notwithstanding the occasionally grim details, it's a hugely relatable subject for comedy.
However, while the NHS stirs strong civic and patriotic emotions, Thomas' journalistic inclinations demand a more rigorous analysis of the institution on its 70th birthday. And this show is packed with interviews, ranging from patients to doctors and former health ministers, with the comic waggishly recreating their testimony as they display remarkable professionalism under trying circumstances. He also spent a month in residency at four hospitals in West London, observing patient care first-hand. Check-Up pitches us straight into the drama of the major trauma unit at St Mary's in Paddington, gripping you with its life or death immediacy, establishing the baseline of gallows humour that pervades its 75 minutes. Memorably, there's a delightful set-piece recreating an operation to remove part of an obese man's stomach that features the surgeon's jazz soundtrack of choice, with Thomas waltzing through the procedure even as the man's exposed guts are shown on screen.
Alongside empathy for suffering, Thomas demands that we confront the economics of the service and our complacency towards it. The ruinous ideology of private financing is roundly condemned, but the message that we all need to pay more for our healthcare could not be starker. A third storytelling strand, in which Thomas' own GP reels off the myriad ways he may die, feels extraneous. But while Scotland can afford some smugness about the state of its provision, at least compared to other parts of the UK, the urgency of his core assertion cannot be dismissed.
Mark Thomas: Check-Up – Our NHS @ 70 is on tour until Saturday 4 May. Seen at Tron Theatre, Glasgow.