First published in The Times, Wednesday August 15 2018
Most speculative writing takes its inspiration from the way we live now. The action of Gary McNair’s two-hander begins in 2042, but there is nothing high-tech about the playwright’s vision of the future. His protagonists, Agnes (Pauline Knowles) and Jim (George Docherty), live in a tiny house surrounded by threadbare furniture. The greatest luxury the couple can afford is a rare Blue Riband biscuit, ordered online and cherished like vintage malt whisky.
As Jim points out: “It’s all a bit like now, but a bit more . . . well, shitey.” The biggest reverse of all is the complete privatisation of the NHS, which proves devastating for the couple when Agnes receives a diagnosis of kidney cancer. As the operation she needs to save her life is beyond their means, Jim, a mechanic, wonders if he can turn his fine motor skills to the human body.
Pic: Eoin Carey
The story’s trajectory is disaster-bound, of that we are never in doubt, but McNair leavens the bleak subject matter with some tender scenes between the embattled couple and a dark humour that wouldn’t look out of place among the dystopian anthology tales of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series.
Pic: Eoin Carey
Indeed, the brilliant set-up is cheapened slightly by a chamber-of-horrors element to the scenes in which Jim makes his first attempts at surgery, operating on animals and disinterring corpses. The speed with which Docherty’s character, practising in his garage, acquires the skills of a surgeon, may be hard to swallow, but McNair, Beth Morton, the show’s director, and the two performers, keep us onside by focusing on the human toll rather than straining to make the improbable seem possible. A righteous political anger informs McNair’s script without ever being heavy-handed or hectoring.