Health Under Fire

Mon 10th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Stasia Carver

at 10:15 on 23rd Aug 2015

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1950s Manchester – with the NHS still in its teething stages, the Royal Infirmary Hospital is already in trouble, with rumours of pharmaceuticals finding their way onto the black market. Arnold Grace (Scott Hodgson) is sent to investigate; what follows is an uproarious hour that will provoke laughs and groans in equal measure, as the cast rollick their way through this ‘noir spoof’.

“Asking questions is like looking in your parents’ top-drawer,” Grace is told at one point. “It’s filthy and full of Nazi memorabilia.” In his quest to untangle the idiotic web of corruption plaguing the hospital, Grace certainly encounters a heck of a lot of smut, and the occasional joke about the Third Reich. Expect puns, a bewildering array of accents, and some ingenious use of cardboard doors.

Andrew Knowles is a wonderfully recognisable caricature as Herr Ayre, the German accountant suspected of fuddling hospital accounts; Nathan Smith, the writer responsible for this jamboree of a show, is equally hysterical as Gus, the disgruntled caretaker who (naturally) proves to be harbouring dark secrets of his own; but every one of the six cast members deserves singling out. There are some real comic talents here, most playing multiple characters, which gives rise to hilarious references to the frequent costume changes; the fourth wall is in smithereens within the first few minutes of the play.

Some jokes are better than others, with more than a liberal dose of cheap laughs: many had me cringing rather than laughing, and a few fell flat altogether, but they come so thick and fast that it was impossible remain unamused for any length of time. I suspect that many noir references passed the less-discerning members of the audience by, myself included; this show would doubtless require a second viewing to be fully appreciated.

This is the kind of humour at which the British seem to excel: deliciously irreverent, at times ingenious, and often just gleefully stupid. If the idea of Airplane meets An Inspector Calls leaves you cold, this show is not for you. But for those prepared to embrace the ridiculous, Health Under Fire is just what the doctor ordered, for young and old alike – and, in the true spirit of the NHS, it’s free.

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Anna Fleck

at 11:00 on 23rd Aug 2015

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Death by Pie’s Health Under Fire is a comedic mishmash of melodrama, mime and slapstick with a film noir touch. This whodunit lures the audience back to a 1950s world of self-reflective inspectors, seductive red-lipsticked women and tyrannical villains.

Arnold Grace, played by Scott Hodgson, has come to the Royal Infirmary Hospital to solve the mystery of the missing pharmaceuticals. However, he finds more than he bargained for. Despite a few casual jibes at the NHS system, on the whole this play aims to please rather than provoke. The grotesque heightened characters, conjoined twins Pete (James Beglin) and Paul (Daniel Blake), make a mockery of the equal opportunities policy, as only through exploitation of their condition can they work in medicine. Their crooked yet charmingly wacky ways are reminiscent of the freakishly funny Adams family and Beglin and Blake bounce off one another in wonderfully fas- paced interlocking duologues, rapidly spiralling off on nonsensical segways, which thoroughly bemuse and invite frequent outbursts of laughter.

Health Under Fire is brimming the refreshingly organic ideas that feed throughout the performance as the company experiments with props, diegetic and non-diegetic sound, and the relationship between on stage and off stage. For example, Maggie’s (Roisin McCusker) “let’s cut to the chase” gag playfully joins pre-recorded sound with action on stage to create a hilarious moment.

McCusker darts off stage and the sound of her footsteps is quickly replaced by the pre-recorded patter of running feet, followed by a squeaking door as it opens, her distant voice asking for a cup of tea and finally the sound of a plane flying slowly overhead. Inspector Arnold Grace stands alone on stage with his head slightly tilted, and eyes squinting as he responds to each audial signal, finally following the path of the imaginary plane above him before breaking the fourth wall with “well…I don’t think she’s coming back.” With limited lighting facilities and a low budget, Death by Pie thinks outside the box to create ingenious theatre like this.

The fight scenes display further originality, silliness and slickness. In a death dance between a doctor and Inspector Grace, the evil doctor resembles a menacing praying mantis as he circles his victim with squirting syringes in hand. His tongue protrudes unnaturally from his mouth and waggles furiously as his eyes roll. Such comic moments are created by building tension before and cutting it short with unexpected turns of events, as here the evil minion is thwarted just before he attacks as a is banana jammed down his throat.

This six-man cast delivers Nathan Smith’s hilarious play with all the gusto and brilliance that it deserves. Death by Pie’s Health Under Fire is a true delight.

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