Focusing on two NHS employees, The Monologues of a Tired Nurse effectively pits the fervent, nervous optimism of Emily against Sally’s weary experience to explore the contemporary challenges of, and pressures on, our healthcare system.
“I’m not like you…I actually care.” This line represents the central tensions within The Monologues of a Tired Nurse at the Lion and Unicorn. This Camden Fringe production focuses on two NHS nurses, pitting the fervent, nervous optimism of Emily against Sally’s weary experience. It depicts selected hospital moments, including newly-qualified Emily’s first day on the ward and Sally’s umpteenth intensive care patient.
The show attempts to visualise the effects of hospital life on Emily by deconstructing her costume, distorting her make-up and with multimedia staging. As a two-woman show, The Monologues of a Tired Nurse negates the human instinct to focus on the patient in hospital situations – you have no choice but to watch the nurses. There are tears, shouting matches and more than a few stress cigarettes as the drama intensifies.
Emotionally, the show hits some effective beats. Emily’s first breakdown and the first patient who takes an unexpected turn for the worst are particular highlights. The nurses’ differing perspectives on healthcare and its limitations are well defined. Sally believes Emily suffers from ‘Superman Complex’, the belief that she (and, by extension, the NHS) can save every person and solve every ailment. Similarly, Emily both envies and pities Sally’s apparent stoicism, wondering why she no longer attends patient funerals and insinuating Sally doesn’t truly care for her patients.
Technically though, Monologues misses the mark on several occasions. The multimedia elements (including a projector screen) aren’t present enough to be effective. The show also attempted several costume deconstructions and changes which were too transparent and free-moving to have the desired emotional effect. The final scenes of the show include a breakneck twist that feels tired rather than raw and shocking.
The show could have focused more on the political machinations that often underlie medical decisions and provided some current affairs commentary. Combined with the personal elements of the piece, this would have made the show a more poignant offering for the Camden Fringe.