Mark Thomas is a witty, intelligent man who has created a fascinating zeitgeist show. In Checkup: Our NHS @ 70 he plummets you from high jovial anecdotes to harsh human realities, a fully fledged journey of our NHS after 70 years in action. Part documentary, part stand-up, Thomas has produced an intriguing and hilarious show to support the lefty’s opinion of the public health sector.
Walking into the Battersea Arts Centre feels like coming into a political campaign. Approaching you are petitions to sign saving hospitals and promoting the continuation of public health, and even if you don’t sign on the way in, I’d be surprised if you’re not utterly convinced to sign by the end of the show.
Thomas has undergone a one month residency at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust hospitals, as well as conducting many interviews with high ranking health professors and spending a whole afternoon with a GP on his own health possibilities. These form the structure of the show as he jumps between the three experiences, telling factual and engaging stories of his observations. From this basic idea, he has created a fantastic play that is shocking, heart-breaking and brilliantly funny. He covers what feels like everything in 75 minutes, from the first NHS advert, to issues of health related to wealth and to the cost of obesity in this country.
All of this is backed by a staggering amount of statistics that cause a ripple of audible gasps. We learn things like the difference in life expectancy for people living in Grenfell versus living near Harrods is 22 years (I don’t think I need to specify which was round this is). Or we hear about an interview with a man going in for a gastric bypass (which you to get watch) weighing 178kg. He achieves this moment by changing rapidly from sturdy scientific reasoning to the very human nature of medicine and the tragedy of living with such an all-consuming problem. Not to mention his comical re-enactment of the surgery to a bright, jazzy track, this brings contrasting light to the inevitable hardship of medicine.
But my favourite moment is Thomas passionately describing the coalition cuts that sent our NHS into a downward spiral. At this point he reenacts an interview with Professor Sir Chris Ham (Chief Executive of The King’s Fund from 2010-2018, among a list of other roles). Thomas’ satirical commentary on this verbatim interview is strikingly playful. All content of this show is highly gripping and there isn’t ever a moment of dullness.
Thomas himself is a firecracker on stage. His energy and pace begin at 100 percent and don’t drop for the full show. He has an ease and casual nature on stage from his years of comedy, activism, presenting and journalism that make him so engulfing to watch. He has such a relaxed manner on stage that he is able to improvise with people walking out for the toilet and lighting cues going wrong. A performance full of zest and charismatic energy.
Overall Checkup: Our NHS @ 70 is an excellent collaboration of informative and entertaining theatre. A highly engaging evening at the theatre that leaves me politically striving for change and yet completely content with a hearty performance.
Checkup: Our NHS @ 70 is playing the Battersea Arts Centre until 4 May. For more information and tickets, see the Battersea Arts Centre website.