The glamourised version of hospital life so familiar from TV drama is fairly obviously far removed from reality, but what that reality is, few of us actually know until we or a loved one are suddenly forced to spend time being treated in a hospital. Theatre Modo director Martin Danziger was inspired by time spent undergoing treatment for cancer in 2007 to explore the unexpected absurdity of hospitalisation in a new one-woman clown show, Sick, which will play to audiences in theatres and hospital wards alike in the coming months.
‘I found it quite difficult to talk about at the time,’ explains Danziger, ‘just because you don’t know which bits are commonly shared and which bits are the bits that are weird. Also, when you’re in hospital, you don’t have that many people to ask advice from. And the doctors and the nurses, I think they forget sometimes about the things that you won’t have a clue about – whether that’s the daily injection that they give you to stop your blood clotting, or even which way around your hospital gown goes, which I’ve certainly seen fellow patients fail to get right.’
Working with patient groups to draw together a range of authentic shared and ‘weird’ experiences, Danziger and clown Suzie Ferguson have concocted a show aiming to expose the often absurd, often awkward, secret life of the patient. ‘We haven’t got an axe to grind against the NHS and it’s not a big “woe is me, I’m in hospital” piece at all – it’s much more about that experience and so I think clowning very early on became an obvious way of doing it.’
Using authentic hospital furniture from the now closed Queen Mother ‘s Maternity Hospital at Yorkhill and a musical score full of the bleeps and mysterious background sounds of the ward and mixing the madcap (a dance routine with a drip stand) with the more disconcerting or frightening, Danziger hopes that the show will be a catalyst for more frank discussion of what goes on when we get ill: ‘Sickness happens to most of us at some point, so finding a way of talking about that more openly can only be a good thing.’
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Wed 31–Sat 3 Apr, then touring