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.