Tag Archives: Jade Anouka

“The Greatest Wealth” from the Old Vic

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that the NHS is as emotive and essential a subject for debate as it ever was. This series of monologues, curated by Lolita Chakrabarti, directed by Adrian Lester and funded by the TS Eliot Estate, uses the humanity – and drama – surrounding the greatest of British institutions with a strong sense of purpose. It is essential viewing.

The project started in 2018 but a new commission, from Bernardine Evaristo, starts the line-up online. First, Do No Harm has a personification of the NHS recounting her achievements and challenging us as to her future. Overtly political, with an attack on “myopic puppet” politicians, this effort to give the institution a voice is stirring and powerful. If some of Evaristo’s references, let alone lines such as “I have X-Ray vision”, come close to being overblown, a magisterial performance from Sharon D Clarke makes them work. The effect is tremendous.

Sharon D Clarke in 'The Greatest Wealth' from The Old Vic
Sharon D Clarke


Chronologically, the series starts with Jack Thorne’s charming piece, Boo, performed by Sophie Stone and showing the impact of the new NHS on a young deaf girl. It’s interesting to see suspicion about the service at its inception, and the writing has plentiful details and an admirably light touch.

Another patient’s perspective – similarly fresh and funny – is told in Choice & Control by Matilda Ibini, which has Ruth Madeley’s character getting on with her life in a wheelchair. It may not be “the Rolls-Royce of wheelchairs” but the point about having access to mobility is well made and Madeley has a lovely way with the audience.

Slightly less successful, if a touch more ambitious, Paul Unwin’s piece adds a dystopian twist that makes his At The Point of Need confusing. David Threlfall’s performance recounts how the NHS has touched his character’s life, but in too much of a rush. It is the only piece that ends more depressing than celebratory – a brave effort that backfires.


A gentle humour, with an increased sense of awe about the science of medicine, is present in pieces about the 1970s and 1980s. Sister Susan by Moira Buffini and Speedy Gonzales by Chakrabarti show us a nurse and a consultant telling us about their work. Characters to truly admire lead to wonderful performances from Dervla Kirwan and Art Malik. 

Sister Susan from 'The Greatest Wealth' at The Old Vic
Dervla Kirwan

Pressure on the NHS is carefully conveyed in the piece about the 1990s. Another nurse and another strong role are present in Family Room by Courttia Newland with Jade Anouka. And stress on NHS staff gets a good twist. Newland highlights the difficulty of health workers protesting that fits well with the whole project’s aim.

High points

For me, the two highlights of the season contained the most humour, used to great effect in Meera Syal’s Rivers. Performing as a midwife in the 1960s, Syal handles the comedy expertly, with delicious irony and sarcasm. While many of the monologues highlight the role of immigrants within the NHS, Syal has a prime position within the debate and opens it up into a broader look at racism. The result rings true and gets laughs – an impressive combination. With powerful emotional twists, the writing has some great turns of phrase and a lovely rhythm.

Myra Syal in 'The Greatest Wealth' from The Old Vic
Myra Syal

A cabaret monologue, The Nuchess by Seiriol Davies makes for a great change of pace. There’s plenty of satire, including outsourcing the last chorus! And more points for rhyming heaven and Bevan. Performed with exuberance by Louise English (pictured top), this jolly personification of the NHS is markedly different from that in First, Do No Harm. But neither are performances to forget in a long time. The NHS doesn’t lack advocates, but they seldom come as articulate as the contributors here. Let’s hope that a monologue addressing the next decade contains only good news.


“The Phlebotomist” at the Hampstead Theatre

There is a great excitement around playwright Ella Road and her first impressive play. After a sell-out premiere last year and a transfer from the venue’s studio space into the main house – with an Olivier nomination under its belt – congratulations are in order. Road’s ear for dialogue is sure and the production strong. It’s a shame that control of the subject matter is lost in this sci-fi romance. Ultimately, the genre ends up manipulating the writer, rather than the other way around.

The scenario is that a system of genetic ratings based on blood tests changes our not-too-distant future. Road has no shortage of ideas, and a series of films crowds the show with news reports or fake adverts. But none of this is particularly novel or hard to foresee, so the play as a whole becomes predictable. While the testing is initially to assist in healthcare, its application in jobs, dating and then eugenics appears quickly. Each could be the focus of a play in its own right but, crammed together, the topics feel thinly explored. There are too many questions and some silly inconsistencies, while tacking on environmental concerns doesn’t help either. There’s a reason sci-fi has so much detail – without the geeky touches, the future world we find ourselves in fails to convince.

Road escalates outrage at a steady rate but with little change of pace in the structure of her scenes, so the show feels slow. By the time we’ve got the legalisation of “post-natal abortion”, attempts to challenge the audience feel more than desperate – they are naïve. Tasteless or provocative? That might depend on your view of human nature. But it seems fair to suggest it’s a dramatic own goal to curtail a plot about the fight again “rateism” so quickly. Only one figure (and a couple of news snippets) attempts to challenge this nightmarish system. A subplot about dealing in blood is carefully contained as a matter of financial corruption. The characters are worryingly lacking in morality or even agency.

For all the problems with the plot, the production is good. Road benefits from ambitious direction from Sam Yates and a superb cast that laps up her well-written lines. Mark Lambert makes for an intriguing impartial observer in his role as a hospital porter. Kiza Deen does sterling work as a protestor who develops Hodgkin disease during the course of the play. The Phlebotomist is essentially a love story between Angus – played by Rory Fleck Byrne, who reveals his character marvellously – and Bea. She holds the occupation that gives the play its title, and the role shows Road’s strengths. A brilliant performance from Jade Anouka – who demands both our sympathy and revulsion – makes her the highlight of the night.

Until 20 April 2019


Photo by Marc Brenner