With the NHS currently front and centre in everybody’s thoughts it is an entirely appropriate moment to revive a play first seen last year. Simon de Cintra’s Bed Seven is set in the early days of the institution (1953 to be precise) and has a gentle afternoon TV quality to it which is faithful to the period it portrays. I suspect that for many in the audience it will provide some welcome relief from more immediate problems and a healthy dose of nostalgia for those who lived during the era.
It is a straightforward tale of a nurse and her patient who, while he is in hospital, develop a bond that will take them far beyond his brief stay there. Gerald is an erudite young man from a well- educated background and lives a life of relative comfort in suburban London. Patricia is from Bristol and has exceeded all expectations of her by becoming a nurse at prestigious King’s College Hospital. Over a number of scenes, we follow their progress – one medically, one career wise, both emotionally – until it is time for Gerald to go home. Will they connect? It was only after watching and doing a little research that it became clear that the two protagonists are based on the playwright’s parents and how they first met. De Cintra has joked: “My father would mischievously try and shock people at social gatherings by telling them that he met his wife ‘in bed’”. It is perhaps a pity that this cannot be made clearer in the recording (perhaps it was in the theatre programme?) as it would lend an extra dimension to proceedings. True there is a period photograph of a couple getting into a car which is displayed under the credits but I did not make the connection.
However, that is not to say that the piece cannot be enjoyed on its own merits. Chloe Wigmore as Nurse Patricia starts out as a slightly brusque figure. She has something to prove to her family, the world at large and, mostly, herself and as far as Gerald is concerned she is going to take no nonsense: “You’re going to be one of those clever ones” she says rather witheringly. However, she clearly knows her job well and her calm efficiency helps to settle Gerald into a routine where he can concentrate on his health. Gerald as played by Jesse Rutherford seems a bit bookish though he would liked to have joined the Navy. Being deaf in one ear has scuppered any chances of that, though that is not why he is in hospital. Indeed, for nearly half the play it is not explained why the young man is there and in order not to give the game away I shall refrain from revealing that here.
The two actors have an excellent rapport which makes the outcome more believable even if it is obvious from the outset that is where we are heading. The later scenes, as both the medical and relationship stakes become higher, are probably the more successful and some real emotions are allowed free rein. The sudden flash forward at the end of the play came as a bit of a jolt and it was perhaps dealt with far too swiftly for it to have an effect; I wondered if the scene might have actually worked better at the top of the play. I was a little concerned by Wigmore’s slightly wandering accent and Rutherford’s ill-fitting suit and couldn’t a plainer and rather less obviously dining room chair have been found? There were also rather too many longueurs as the simple set was rearranged but none of this detracted hugely from the overall enjoyment to be found in this undemanding gentle piece.
If nothing else the play reminds us that much of the skill in nursing doesn’t come from administering medication and keeping things tidy. It comes from simply being there to act as a point of human contact, to listen and to support. A salutary lesson for these difficult times and a reminder of why our current NHS staff are so invaluable. Politicians please take note.
Bed Seven is available on You Tube and is being streamed in support of the Actor’s Centre. Click here
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option
For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is updated regularly supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)