I was asked recently why I had left a successful teaching career as senior lecturer with a pension, to set up a theatre group (a pub theatre group at that) that is unlikely to ever make any money, relying on a few teaching hours in the university to get by. My go-to phrase is “I was disillusioned with the education system”, which is partly true (and an issue I shall return to at a later date). Whatever the reason, the catalyst was my mother’s unexpected death from cancer, and the pain and suffering she endured at the hands of our NHS.
Until faced with such issues, we tend to remain relatively unaffected by media reports of ward over-crowding, long queues and waiting lists, abuse in care homes and so on. But this is happening to real people. Real people, in every town and city in the UK. I saw it in Newport’s own Royal Gwent Hospital. Elderly people being sent home to empty houses with no support or aftercare. The sick and injured people lying on floors in corridors and wards, because there were no beds or trollies. The nurse, bursting into tears, unable to offer a bed to my dying mother who was no longer able to sit upright on the chair in the waiting area. The ladies with no pillow cases or clean linen on their beds. The people who wet themselves because no one came when they buzzed. I saw it and was powerless.
But there was kindness too. I will never forget the nursing staff on the ward onto which we’d been pushed, on the occasion I had refused to take my mother home. They couldn’t give us a bed, but they made sure we were comfortable and gave us food and drink for the day. The staff on the Alzheimer’s ward, too, cheerfully chasing escaping patients, always showing kindness and respect.
These are the people whose stories I promised myself I would one day tell. I may not be the best writer in the world; my actors may not be the most experienced or classically trained; my crew may be young, inexperienced and have to work for the price of a pint. But goddammit, they are the most talented, committed and brave group of people I could hope to work with. Society may suck, but we care, and this is why Reality Theatre needs and values your support. Vive la revolution!