Where it Hurts
- Gareth K Vile
- 17 August 2018
Authentic experiences from the NHS mental health frontline
The Grassmarket Project embodies the difficulties for critics in reviewing performance that sits between theatre and real-life stories: many plays at the Fringe are autobiographical, but Where It Hurts is presented as the direct telling of personal stories, seemingly by the people who experienced them, with a strong theatricality in places but also a determined authenticity. Some of the stories are told as if recounted in therapy, others are dramatised. Yet with a summing up given by a doctor, who draws a distinction between 'performing' and 'giving care', the application of a star rating could be an insult to the strength of the people who appear on stage.
Consequently, many of the episodes could be criticised for being clumsy, especially when a performer enacts rather than tells their experience and the sudden battles between them are uncomfortably real, the aggression palpable. The format - a confessional circle of patients and carers - evokes group therapy, with the participants sharing their lives.
The managed dramaturgy - the pattern of individuals speaking in turn, the introductory poem, the outbursts of rage - frames the overview of an NHS struggle to provide appropriate support. Weaving around a nursing assistant's description of how burnout can creep up on the most dedicated worker, a comprehensive litany of pain and redemption fills out an investigation into the state of the state.
The information and personal experiences are important, and the production takes its responsibilities seriously. While there is a clear – even obvious – director's touch, Where It Hurts does not aim to entertain (although, again, it does), but communicate an urgent message and the commodification of the event into a package star-rating disrespects the honesty of the intention and places lived experienced as another theatrical interpretation. Where It Hurts comes across as an important and vital alternative to the theatricalisation of political concern.
Summerhall, until 26 Aug (not 20), 8.30pm, £12 (£8).