Category Archives: Plays

Pinter, Harold. A Kind of Alaska

alaska alaska3d

A middle-aged woman named Deborah, who has been in a comatose state for thirty years as a result of contracting “sleepy sickness,” encephalitis lethargica, awakes with a mind still that of a sixteen-year-old. She must confront a body which seems to have aged without her prior knowledge or consent.

Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN-10: 0571288405

(spoiler alert)

Penhall, Joe. Blue/Orange

This TV Play is made available via the Education Recording Agency (ERA) licence, as such the following link will only work via a computer on the HYMS network.

>click here<

Chris has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder following a psychotic episode. After 28 days in the care of young registrar Dr. Bruce Flaherty he is due to be released, but Bruce fears that his patient’s belief that his father is Idi Amin, and the fact that he insists that oranges are blue, are warning signs of schizophrenia. If Chris is released into the community he could well suffer a terrible breakdown. The scene is set for a struggle with senior consultant Dr. Robert Smith who sees Chris as ready to leave.

Dr Bill Laughey HYMS:  There is a very interesting modern play which is very medical: Blue Orange, by Joe Penhall. Written about 10 years ago it premiered at The National with Bill Nighy in the lead role.
It is about an older and a younger psychiatrist and a black patient who is under their care. There is a whole interesting argument about what schizophrenia is and does the patient have it or can his beliefs be explained on cultural rather than psychiatric grounds. Blurring the argument is the fact that the older pyschiatirst is under financial pressure to discharge him. There’s a lot of alpha male arguing between the two doctors and dodgy careers advice from the older to the younger. There are times when you wonder who is maddest – the doctors or the patient? 

The blurb puts it like this: BLUE/ORANGE is an incendiary tale of race, madness and a Darwinian power struggle at the heart of a dying National Health Service.

I rate it as a must-see for any doctor, anyone interested in the NHS, and anyone who just likes a jolly good play.


Part of collection “The Methuen drama book of twenty-first century British plays / edited by Aleks Sierz”

Povey, Meic. Don’t Buy a Winter Coat

This Radio Play is made available via the Education Recording Agency (ERA) licence, as such the following link will only work via a computer on the HYMS network. >click here<

When Megan first tells Anton that she’s afraid something’s wrong, he brushes her fears away. Later, when they’re sitting in the waiting room at the Oncology Department, he still refuses to believe that Megan is ill. Even when the diagnosis of cervical cancer is given, he struggles to accept it. He hopes
against hope for a miracle. But in this story there is no miracle, and Meic Povey’s play traces the journey of a man faced with losing the woman he loves. It’s a searingly honest account, based on his own experience, of facing up to the reality of a partner’s terminal illness

Viewer Comments:


One of the aspects of this drama that I felt was particularly convincing was the tension that often surfaced between the partners. As you just hear the two voices of Anton and Megan, without anything from a ‘professional’ voice – it made me think ‘I wonder what they were saying?’. Where does Megan get her version of the staging of cervical cancer? I think you could stop the play at any number of points and ask, ‘What might a health professional say/do/not do/not say at this point?’

Miller, A. Death of a Salesman

In the spring of 1948 Arthur Miller retreated to a log cabin in Connecticut with the first two lines of a new play already fixed in his mind. He emerged six weeks later with the final script of Death of a Salesman – a painful examination of American life and consumerism. Opening on Broadway the following year, Miller’s extraordinary masterpiece changed the course of modern theatre. In creating Willy Loman, his destructively insecure anti-hero, Miller himself defined his aim as being ‘to set forth what happens when a man does not have a grip on the forces of life.’

Jonathan Lloyd HYMS: themes ageing, family, career, disillusionment.

Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 0141182741

Shaw, GB. The Doctor’s Dilemma

Author: Shaw, George Bernard
Title: The Doctor’s Dilemma
ISBN-10: 0140480013

 (spoiler alert)

It is often the preface to this play which gets itself into commentaries and presentations (I have seen it quoted in HYMS plenaries both by the first Dean, Bill Gillespie and by Alan Maynard). The International Journal of Epidemiology printed both an extarct from the prologue and some commentaries in 2003.

The Doctor’s Dilemma.Extracts from Preface on Doctors. George Bernard

Commentary: The Doctor’s Dilemma: a response. Liam Donaldson

Commentary: A very Fabian dilemma. Julian Tudor Hart

Commentary: Bernard Shaw’s dilemma: marked by mortality. Sally Peters

Commentary: Shaw’s critique of health care is still valid. K Srinath


Bennett, A. Talking Heads

Alan Bennett’s award-winning series of solo pieces is a classic of contemporary drama, universally hailed for its combination of razor-sharp wit and deeply felt humanity. In Bed Among the Lentils, a vicar’s wife discovers a semblance of happiness with an Indian shop owner. In A Chip in the Sugar, a man’s life begins to unravel when he discovers his aging mother has rekindled an old flame. In A Lady of Letters, a busybody pays a price for interfering in her neighbor’s life.

Author: Bennett, Alan
Title: Talking Heads
Publisher: London : BBC Books
Year: 1988
ISBN: 0563206225




Viewer Comments:


Can I also recommend The Lady In The Van by Allan Bennet. It is the zany (as only Alan Bennet can be) story of a vagrant lady who imposes herself on him in his smart literary north London street. It reads at one level as a psychiatric case history;at another as a farce. It reminds us that our patients’ stories can often be farcical and/or tragic at the same time.

Jonathan Bynoe


A mention also for “The Madness of George III” (play) and/or “The Madness of King George” (film), this also has ‘madness’, and treatment of the mad, at its core. Medical ‘expertise’ gets an appropriate drubbing – I love the scene when one of the royal physicians is desperate to get a mention of the ‘stool’ in to the update on the King’s health, the official response is, “My dear Pepys, the persistent excellence of the stool has been one of this disease’s most tedious features. When will you get it into your head, one can produce a copious, regular,  and exquisitely-turned evacuation every day and still be a stranger to reason?” The play and film also represent the beginnings of a more humane approach to the treatment of mental illness, represented by the Francis Willis (actor Ian Holm in the film) who was seen as having been responsible for his recovery.

Ibsen, H. An Enemy of the People

Power. Money. Morality. In a tight knit community a shocking discovery comes to light and threatens the lifeblood of the town. Truth and honour are pitched against wild ambition and corruption in Ibsens emotional maelstrom.

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year: 2008
ISBN: 0571242596

 (spoiler alert)

Viewer Comments:


Catriona Kemp HYMS: Whistle blowing, medical ethics and public health.
The central character, a doctor, is a popular and well regarded figure in his community who investigates and discovers that the new baths to be opened in the town – bringing much needed tourism and money – are actually a health risk being corrupted by the local tannery.
Film versions of it have included Steve McQueen’s penultimate appearance. (Worth seeing just for the size of the beards.) Clips from this ( along with other versions available on YouTube.

Classic quotes include:

  • the strongest man is the man who stands alone
  • The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war. Who is it that constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the clever folk, or the stupid? I don’t imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over. But, good Lord!—you can never pretend that it is right that the stupid folk should govern the clever ones I (Uproar and cries.) Oh, yes—you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The  majority has might on its side—unfortunately; but right it has not. I am in the right—I and a few other scattered individuals. The minority is always in the right.”
  • What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are beginning to break up. And if a truth is as old as that, it is also in a fair way to become a lie, gentlemen. (Laughter and mocking cries.) Yes, believe me or not, as you like; but truths are by no means as long-lived at Methuselah—as some folk imagine. A normally constituted truth lives, let us say, as a rule seventeen or eighteen, or at most twenty years—seldom longer. But truths as aged as that are always worn frightfully thin, and nevertheless it is only then that the majority recognises them and recommends them to the community as wholesome moral nourishment. There is no great nutritive value in that sort of fare, I can assure you; and, as a doctor, I ought to know. These “majority truths” are like last year’s cured meat—like rancid, tainted ham; and they are the origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our communities.

Full text available from project Gutenberg at (source of quotes above).

Beckett, S. Waiting for Godot

Beckett’s first stage play portrays two tramps, trapped in an endless waiting for the arrival of a mysterious personage named Godot, while disputing the appointed place and hour of his coming. They amuse themselves with various bouts of repartee and word-play.

Jonathan Lloyd HYMS: themes communication friendship belief suffering and lots more if only I understood them!

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Year: 1959
ISBN: 0571058086