‘I spend my days saving lives and my nights wanting to end my own’.

It is a tough time to work within our National Health Service, staff have just battled a deadly virus, and the repercussions on their own mental health are huge. Plus, a record number of healthcare professionals are having to utilise their local food banks due to their low wages. Mark Grey has created this show to directly reflect the current situation, giving a main stage to an important issue, and creating a piece of theatre which reflects current societal issues.

Don’t Clap For Me Mr. Johnson centres around Nurse Max Cavendish, following her life during the pandemic. We meet her parents: Aisling and Wilf, her colleagues Boris and Georghi, and her money-hungry bosses. Alessandra Leonie is sensational as Max, packing her performance with emotion, she ensures the burden of Max’s job and life is clear to see in the palpable exhaustion the character feels, one can almost feel the weight upon Max’s shoulders when watching Leonie perform. Jan van der Black’s performance as Max’s father is also a standout, he delivers an emotional monologue in the show’s final moment with tears streaming down his face.

Staged in the round and with minimal set pieces, the focus is solely on the performances throughout. The choice for the production to feature no sound (except one song) feels an odd one, as it hinders the production’s ability to build an atmosphere. Simply adding in some hospital soundscapes would elevate the production, allowing us to be transported to the setting. The lack of sound throughout also meant the final monologue lacked the impact it ought to – if there had been sound during other moments, the starkness of the silence during this would have elevated the scene and built intensity, but instead, it is similar in formula to the rest of the play.

Whilst the show’s storyline is a good one, and the concept is strong, some of the lines feel clichéd. There are lines the characters speak that feel more akin to something found on a protesting sign than something a healthcare worker would say aloud whilst on shift. I also feel we never fully get to know any of the characters well, some of which feel underwritten, and there are elements of the storyline which feel misplaced; why would Georghi have an affair with Boris, when her friendship with Max appeared so strong, and when did they have a chance seeing as all three of them are constantly working and the two women are roommates? Plus I don’t feel this strand of storyline ultimately added much value towards the overall show.

The choice to include an interval in a show that is just 90 minutes (including the 15-minute interval) is also strange and doesn’t feel necessary. Act One spends much of the time introducing characters and not much else. Act Two feels more complete – it packs more of an emotional punch and provides much more food for thought. Within this section of the show, we see first-hand the effects of the pandemic and the state of the NHS, rather than just have people speak about it.

Don’t Clap For Me Mr. Johnson possesses an incredibly important story, and it should absolutely be told – but some further editing is required to provide more clarity, make it more concise, and fully realise the story they wish to portray.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Don’t Clap For Me Mr. Johnson is at The Cockpit until the 23rd April, and then is at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham on the 28th May.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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