Accidents and Emergencies continues at the Lost Theatre, London until 21 November.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
From ER to Casualty, the hospital drama has always been a popular source of entertainment on TV, although aside from a few exceptions – Informed Consent at Jermyn Street is the last one this reviewer can remember – the genre has never really crossed over to the live stage. Accidents and Emergencies attempts to address this oversight and offers a selection of four musical theatre stories set on an emergency ward.
With inspiration taken from testimonials gathered from hospital workers and patients throughout the country, the producers This Stage Limited have brought together five composers and lyricists to offer their unique take on the various subjects.
Death and Chocolate by Chris Bush and Matt Winkworth is centred around a vending machine and throws up brief episodes of the many different stories that pass by. Three performers play no less than 12 characters in this virtually through-sung piece that captures the energy and drama of life on A&E. The characters vary from tyro nurses, coping with the shocking emotional impact of working on the ward, to police officers with arrests in tow. Bush and Winkworth’s style suits the fractured narrative but the lyrics seem a little unimaginative in places – perhaps hinting more at a verbatim style adopted from the testimonials.
We are on much more familiar territory with Silent Night by Jennifer Whyte. I don’t think that there is a hospital soap that hasn’t included at least one dedicated Christmas special. Silent Night looks and sounds more like a traditional book musical, although its grim setting is more reminiscent of Philip Ridley than Hallmark. With the closure of the last NHS hospitals, a young man is desperate to find somewhere for his wife to give birth. Anti-austerity riots are in full flow on the streets and Whyte draws on a standard book-format musical to deliver her message of hope. It works quite well, and the list-song, sung by Nadeem Crowe as a distraction for his wife in labour is marvellous for lightening the tension.
Sick! by Gus Gowland works in a very different way. Gowland’s book truncates a relationship between a charge nurse and a habitual drunk who becomes a regular in the A&E ward. Blessed with a contemporary score and lots of comedy moments, Sick! may be more of a crowd-pleaser in terms of style, but the story has trouble finding an acceptable moral conclusion. Either way, Gowland’s score is seriously energising and bodes well for future musical writing.
Arguably the most accomplished score in the evening belongs to Beyond by Rebecca Applin. A ghost story of sorts, it is formed of two musical monologues as the ghost of a recently deceased patient persuades a disheartened nurse to continue working in A&E. Applin’s knack is in pairing the emotional tug of the story with appropriate soaring melodies so that little or none of the dynamism is lost. Director Jeremy Lloyd Thomas is blessed with vocalist Sharon Ballard, who captures the immediacy of the story perfectly opposite Daniel Hall’s gentle turn as the kindly spirit.
As a musical theatre project, Accident and Emergencies allows five new writers to flex their musical muscles. It’s an impressive showcase of their capabilities – there are no similarities in style of story throughout – and while each piece only runs at about 20 minutes, none of them feel rushed or lacking a decent narrative arc. While this is very much a show about the writers, it’s worth noting that a distinctly versatile cast gives its all in this production, performers playing a huge variety of characters while still belting out some fantastic, complex tunes (musical director is Nathan Martin).