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Bed 13 by Marcia Kelson

OSO Arts Centre

OSO Arts Centre - 17 July 2019

Bed 13 by Marcia Kelson

My mother was a nurse. She arrived from Ireland during the last war to train and dealt mainly with airmen and some mariners. After we had all grown up a bit (there are six of us), she returned to nursing as a dental nurse in the outpatients department of the local teaching hospital. This wasn’t as mundane as it might sound as she was occasionally involved in supporting the A&E teams’ work with survivors of road traffic accidents, fights and other traumatic events. It wasn’t unusual for her to come home having assisted in stabilising the facial injuries of some poor sot who had come off his motorcycle (and yes, it was usually a he and yes, it was usually a motorcycle) so that the trauma team could focus on other priorities. Also I think it’s fair to say that most of the issues explored in this piece are familiar to me as a result. I offer this information as I think it’s relevant to declare I have a particular interest in Putney Theatre Club’s production of Bed 13.

This is a new piece, written by Marcia Kelson, who also directs. The play has been entered for the Papatango New Writing Prize  and has been long-listed as a result. For those who may be unfamiliar with this prize, it was established in 2009. It was the first and remains one of the few annual playwriting award in the UK to guarantee an emerging playwright a full production on the professional stage. It provides a royalty of 10% of the gross box office and publication by Nick Hern Books, as well as a full commission to support a follow-up play.

Putney Theatre Company (PTC) is normally associated with the Putney Arts Centre, so they are playing away here, and making a pretty good fist of it.

’m sure that many of us are familiar with the problems and issues facing the NHS and offer opinions and solutions in the abstract. The advantage of a play, or film, or television programme is that it can set those discussions in the context of real people and the effects on them. This script has great strength in this respect. Marcia Kelson draws on her experience as an NHS researcher to provide characters that are well drawn, believable and developed throughout the play, as are the situations they face.

As we enter the auditorium, we are soothed into our seats by the playing of Samuel Woolf, offering such arch references as The First Cut Is The Deepest and I’m No Superman, which was the theme from the American hospital based comedy drama TV series Scrubs. But it is the theme from our own Casualty that acts as the figurative curtain-raiser and introduces us to Angela, an NHS manager who implores us to make proper use of A&E and not take up time with cuts and bruises or sniffles and coughs. The opening number, The 999 Song, serves to underline this plea and introduce us to a well-drilled ensemble.

Angela, ably presented by Caroline Salter, comes across well as someone who is trying to access and present that breezy efficiency that we all love to hate, but who is actually hanging on to any positivity by her fingernails in the face of conflicting demands that threaten to overwhelm. These demands are, of course the huge call on services by the public, diminishing resource levels and increasing management demands. As a result, Angela becomes an altogether more sympathetic character. Angela also addresses us directly on occasion to provide relevant information.

We are then introduced in short order to nurses Stacey (Emma Bugg) and Carol (Tamsin Gatewood), together with patients Mr Jackson (David Jones) and Graham (Tim Iredale). Mr Jackson is in the middle stages of dementia and is looking for his wife, who in reality has died some time previously, whilst Graham takes on the role of the ward jester. Both are familiar characters and in the case of Mr Jackson, sadly so. I wondered briefly whether this device of looking for his deceased wife was going to slip into a form of Carry-On standing gag, but it didn’t. It rightly emphasized the pathos of the situation. The character of Graham is interesting in that his storyline points towards a resolution that doesn’t occur. As such, it is more reflective of the random elements of diagnosis and treatment.

Stacey and Carol are a great pairing. The conversations between colleagues provide the opportunity to point up the front-line issues facing nurses and their overriding vocational dedication. The one element that is not referenced, I think, is that of violence towards A&E staff. That aside, the dialogue and interactions and emotional responses all felt natural and realistic. Both sing well, too. Their duet, Nurse Patient Note Song delivers a witty and insightful observation and demonstrates a well-balanced musicality.

Other notable performances include the aforementioned David Jones in a second role as Doctor. Rachelle Grubb as variously Susie, Alison, Sophie or Janice, where each character was distinct and defined and even her appearance and physicality changed to suit. The costume changes must be a nightmare. Also, Craig McAulay playing Clive, the sort of manager one would never get tired of slapping.

The scope of the piece is fairly wide ranging, including the effect of chronic illness on relationships, particularly family relationships. There are two key instances of this; one with Mr Jackson’s daughter, who is rather self-obsessed and materialistic and the other with a mother and her adult daughter, who has a recurrence of a cancer. This last, although it was well acted by Lesly-Ann Jones and Rachelle Grubb, felt a bit laboured in contrast to the pacy coverage shown up to that point. It may possibly benefit from a bit of tightening up in the writing, or the inclusion of a song, such as Alison and Mr Jackson’s duet, Alison’s Song, which occurs later in the piece.For full review:https://markaspen.com/2019/07/17/bed-13/

Bed 13 by Marcia Kelson Putney Arts Company, Old

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