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5-star No Help Sent at the Etcetera Theatre London – Review

No Help SentI came away unconvinced that the scenario painted in No Help Sent would feasibly happen, at least not in the immediate future. Put simply, I still think it would be political suicide for any party in Government to implement full-blown NHS privatisation, as it is presented here, with nothing at all in any way, shape or form to assist those without substantial pots of money. I cannot envisage such a party having any chance of winning the following General Election. Party politics aside (and me not quite having fully suspended disbelief at the theatre door) however, this is still a compelling show, and one that crosses traditional political boundaries in its exploration of life’s nobler priorities and irrational responses to an irrational situation.

Michael (Josh Quigley), more commonly known as Mike to his close circle of friends, is the unwanted centre of attention as he finds himself in need of surgery. Being students, he and his friends have at least been able to crowdfund an initial operation, but even this is a door being closed to them, on a most unfair technicality. Combined with some other setbacks in other areas of their lives, the play isn’t afraid to have its characters portrayed as angry young men, who make mistakes – sometimes ones with potentially severe consequences – but who, in all cases, end up man enough to admit their imperfections and remain friends, despite everything. It is more genuinely heartfelt and touching, and far less melodramatic and clichéd, than I have just made it sound.

The show does not waste any time in getting to the heart of the matter, beginning with a television news report about a family forced to make difficult choices because of their finite savings, before Lee (Petter Løfsgaard) has even dressed for the day ahead. The relentless pace does not let up, and while some of the details revealed in the narrative may seem quite irrelevant at face value, it works: we get to know each of the characters more than well enough to at least understand, if not sympathise, with their grappling of their plights and dilemmas, both individual and collective.

What makes it so engrossing is that, while there’s preachiness in a recorded speech at the end and, before that, in a rant by Richard (Porl Matthews), a medical doctor who continued to practise post-privatisation, the show doesn’t assert a set of arguments as to why Britain is better retaining the NHS than abolishing it, choosing rather to focus in on the far-reaching direct impact abolition would have.

There are more subplots to the headline story than I had imagined were even possible between five characters in a one-act play, and plenty of credibility in John (Craig McDonald) and his fury about the status quo, as much as there is in James (Rob Hadden) trying to gently rekindle a previous relationship. The narrative progresses at the right speed: never sluggish, and yet never too fast – it was always easy to follow this course of events. There’s much humour to be enjoyed, too – in that most idiosyncratic and British way of seeing the funny side of virtually anything. Put together, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, and although the show flew by and was over all too soon, it still felt like I had the pleasure of a full evening’s theatre even though the whole thing was done and dusted within an hour.

My own misgivings about the dystopia created in the show should not, and do not, detract from my recognition of a powerful and absorbing play. As you might expect, there’s plenty of food for thought and discussion, and in the absence of any criticisms of the production proper, I see no reason not to plump for the highest possible rating and thoroughly recommend this show for your viewing pleasure.

Well, okay, I have one negligible quibble: James’ student digs are impossibly tidy. Talk about splitting hairs, though. This is an excellent experience from a company that’s certainly going places.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

This play is set in the recent future, in an England where the government have approved a bill to cancel the NHS, private health care is now the only option. With no money, sharing a flat with 3 of his mates, a third year university student is diagnosed with cancer, and it seems he must now live his life on a timer.

Refusing to believe there is no hope, one of the group defies the constructs that have been placed around them, and, by any means necessary, attempts to save his friend.

A fast paced, and heart-breaking dark comedy that challenges the human suffering behind the political manipulation of the NHS. Running time one hour.

’No Help Sent is a funny, urgent, emotionally honest play that confronts an all too possible future scenario’ Robert Farquhar, Playwright (God’s Official, Kissing Sid James).

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29th March 2016<
2nd April 2016 at 7:30pm


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