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After the Cuts review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘funny and fire-stirring’

Pauline Knowles and George Docherty in After the Cuts by Gary McNair at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Eoin Carey Pauline Knowles and George Docherty in After the Cuts by Gary McNair at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Eoin Carey

Yikes. Gary McNair’s After the Cuts, one of a few shows about the NHS this Fringe, paints a pretty startling picture of the future; a pretty ominous portrait of where the dismantlement of our public health service will lead.

Set in 2042 in a dystopian Britain where free hospitals are a thing of the past, it presents Jim and Agnes, an ageing couple who can’t afford healthcare. They’re uninsurables. So when Agnes is diagnosed with lung cancer, Jim, a mechanic by trade, can only see one solution: he’ll have to operate on her himself.

It’s a play about surgery, but it’s anything but surgical. McNair’s play has a big, beating heart, and it’s also wickedly funny, especially in the later scenes when Jim starts his bloody preparations, dissecting smaller mammals in his garage and practising on a corpse he’s bodysnatched.

Beth Morton’s production is slow and sensitive, and there’s real tenderness in the relationship between George Docherty’s likeably bumbling George and Pauline Knowles’ potty-mouthed Agnes.

And, although it’s not in the foreground, there’s palpable political anger here, too, driving the dark humour on. Agnes has a particularly brilliant speech, a defiant two fingers to Westminster eloquently encapsulating the casual cruelty of Tory policy – funny and fire-stirring simultaneously.

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A darkly funny dystopia about life after the dismantling of the NHS