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Drip Drip Drip

Jon Welch
Pipeline Theatre
Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire

Writer-director Jon Welch's highly unusual play Drip, Drip, Drip tackles the rise of racism and bigotry in the NHS. That's not something you expect from a tiny company from the depths of Cornwall who admit to being a shoestring organisation that's overstretched and under-resourced. Funny how similar that description feels to the one that the NHS uses to describe itself.

Welch admits to chasing a few rabbits down a lot of holes in his thought processes. The first thing that came into his mind was Dante's Inferno and his thinking involved the NHS equivalent of the ninth circle of Hell, Dante's Infirmary. But who would the Devil be? Who was the cacodemon of the NHS? That question remains unanswered.

Then Welch thought of Karl Brandt, Hitler's personal physician, who was the head of the Nazi euthanasia programme. And on to his son, Karl-Adolf (Hitler was his godfather), who was twelve when his father was hanged at Nuremberg and who later also became a doctor delivering emergency care to Eritrean single mothers. Could Karl Brandt symbolically and literally enter an NHS ward across the generations? The answer to that question emerges from the pages of this play as a terrifying resounding yes.

And so enter Professor David Jeffs, a Nazi supporter and first-class bigot, to give a lecture on Karl Brandt's work. Titus Adam lends Jeffs an incredibly believable hostility, producing an immensely dislikeable little man who defends Brandt's actions in the final solution as important, appropriate and necessary.

Jeffs's lecture gives us pictures projected on a screen; his strong congratulatory words show off his admiration for Brandt, presenting Hitler as his friend and confidante.

His lecture goes on a little longer than is comfortable, which I presume was totally intentional on the part of the writer. The audience became silent and an incredulous air pervaded the theatre—I was a little worried that I'd been tricked into seeing a show that was nothing whatsoever to do with the NHS.

Then comes his collapse, sirens, nurses, doctors—Jeffs becomes the emergency, his pictures disappear and his screen becomes a hospital screen. Confusion and reality join in disharmony and the play begins to unfold at a rapid pace. Life and our entitlement to it become a question.

There are no excuses for bigotry and there will be no more spoilers. Injections cannot prevent racism. X-ray cannot expose antisemitism and there are no bandages for patients, nurses, doctors or health workers who have to work and be treated in an impossibly diverse, multicultural environment.

Benjamin Dyson's portrayal of the downtrodden, overworked Dr Greg Chambers is beautifully observed; his characterisation of Karl Brandt is circumspect and terrifying.

Shereener Browne's multiracial characters include a masterful portrayal of the overworked ward nurse Laverne and super-sensitive and much challenged Dr Darla Adebayo is a triumph.

Alan and Jude Munden's design takes us into the hospital ward with fantastic attention to detail, using some very clever theatrical trickery to show us Germany, Eritrea, refugees, immigrants and a small crippled child—a tragic, entirely believable and beautifully-made figure playing with toy cars.

Alan Munden's character, Steven Komorov, is suitably annoying and larger than life and he is also festeringly brilliant as Dr Karl Adolf.

The most diverse characters belong to Claudius Peters who slips effortlessly between the dying rapper Leon and Daniel Mebrahtu, the nurse who can barely speak English, giving his characters a quality of reality that is, quite frankly, totally awesome.

Titus Adam's physically exhausting 'don't-touch-me' portrayal of confusion and outright in-your-face bigotry turns on the screaming blue emergency lights of the NHS in crisis.

Their duty of care feels impossible against such an intolerable backdrop of bigotry and blatant, unchecked racism.

Pipeline Theatre might be a tiny company from deepest Cornwall, but its work is creating theatre for the enquiring mind. What they have exposed in this production is profoundly alarming and deserves a much wider audience.

Helen Brown