Operating Theatre’s repertoire contains plays on a wide variety of subjects concerning many aspects of health and wellbeing, and is listed below by subject matter. Further information, including production costs, is available for all the plays. Dramas can be adapted to address specific requirements and all can be presented on their own or with an accompanying workshop to explore particular issues. Operating Theatre is also always available to provide commissioned work.
The Woman Who Wasn’t There
Originally commissioned by Durham University Medical School, this play is now performed annually for students at two medical schools and at conferences concerned with alcohol abuse. It explores how a doctor handles being called to a situation where a woman is dying with end stage alcohol related liver failure, this apparently in the bosom of a loving family. It asks how this can happen and whose fault it might be. Illuminating the impotence of people involved in caring for those with alcohol problems, the play also presents the feelings of the doctor. Might the woman’s death have been prevented if the doctor had spent more time talking to her when she presented at the surgery; asked her for instance why she drinks? And when she indicated she was willing to sign up for an alcohol treatment programme, why did no-one bother to check whether she had done on her progress?
This is a play written for a regional alcohol abuse conference in response to concerns about so-called ‘middle class drinking.’ Confirmed ‘social drinker’ Bill Spackley is disgusted when he finds himself in the afterlife, and directed to Room 208 – a place reserved for those who have died of alcohol-related illnesses. After all, it was only ever half a bottle of wine in front of a DVD to unwind after a hard day at work? Or a bottle? Or more? What’s wrong with that? And OK, yes, so he did vaguely recall spilling a glass over his son’s freshly written history essay one night. And, yes, come to think of it, his wife never seemed to want to talk, and always did go to bed early. Redirecting the spotlight from youngsters binge-drinking in bus shelters and falling into gutters, the play focuses instead on the over-indulgence that goes on in the civility and gentility of the family home.
Wrong Time Wrong Place
A play written for Balance, the alcohol charity, and the Safer Communities Partnership, using research from local A&E departments about the violence that too often accompanies alcohol abuse and which can have catastrophic consequences. An A&E nurse with professional experience of such consequences gives the eulogy at the funeral of the a friends’ son, an innocent young man caught up in an incidence of late night violence in his favourite drinking spot. – his life cut short simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Real McKoi
Part of Newcastle University’s Engagement in Education project, The Real McKoi toured schools in the region. It addresses the phenomenon of the low uptake by young people of further and higher education locally, and was written after talking to pupils and students about their feelings about education, and what part they felt their school days played in their future. The resulting drama shows four young people ‘bunking off’ on a park bench honestly addressing subjects such as truancy, family and peer pressure and the consequent lack of motivation; they debate among themselves what the future might hold for them in terms of their lives and careers.
Three Across Two Down
This play written to encourage the recognition and harnessing of talent in the NHS, and views the health service from an administrative and managerial perspective. It addresses the whole business of conferences and campaigns and asks frankly whether they actually achieve anything. Two managers are seen locked in debate over the vexing question of the relative merits of chicken legs over quiche slices – one manager a serious enthusiast for the corporate away day and what it produces, the other a dyed-in-the-wool sceptic who only wants to get down to his crossword in the lunch break. In the middle is the office junior whose constantly ringing phone proves she’s the one whose voice is really being missed from the office and clearly the one whose talent should be recognised and harnessed immediately.
Whose Leg is it Anyway?
Commissioned as part of a Patient Safety Project, this is series of filmed sketches designed to promote the involvement of patients in their own care, a major trend in contemporary health care. The sketches, deliberately surreal and offbeat, are all based on real issues uncovered in empirical research showing the differing, sometimes conflicting ways patients and clinicians view each other. Designed to provoke discussion and reflection, the sketches have been presented at a number of patient safety events in the UK and at the recent International Shared Decision Making Conference in Quebec. They demonstrate a unique and potentially impactful approach to interpreting and disseminating research findings.
Sketches can be shown collectively or individually, stand-alone or embedded in a workshop. They can also be performed live. To view the sketches, go to:
A Christmas Story
Written for medical students at a Preparing for Practice Day, the play shines a spotlight on those areas of professionalism and communication that are not black-and-white and that definitely can’t be learned from a textbook. Having to break bad news is part of a doctor’s life – is there a good way and a bad way to do it? How do you handle an angry relative, particularly when the relative has got good reason to be angry? And what do you do if when you say ‘I understand’ – not in a patronising and empty way, but with sincerity because you really do understand, because you’ve been there yourself?
The Salt of the Earth
A play dealing with the thorny question of the right to know if or when a health issue raises itself. When popular local allotments are found to be polluted the question is who should be told and whether they should be closed down. Based on research, and loosely based on a real case, the play is set in a public meeting where the potential closure of the local allotments believed to be polluted with lead, is being discussed. Passionate opinions are voiced on all sides of the discussion to try and get to the truth of the matter. But whose view and whose facts are the ones to be trusted? Salt of the Earth offers new perspectives on the problems of information sharing, the when and how. The play was commissioned by the UK Public Health Association for its annual conference, and as a result of the interest raised later staged for a public performance.
Little Goody Blue Shoes
A woman who has just given birth to a child with Down’s Syndrome is faced with a tick-boxing health visitor. They talk but entirely fail to connect, the box- ticking world of the health visitor, sympathetic as it attempts to be, being entirely detached from the entirely alien world in which the new mother unexpectedly finds herself. The play examines role of the health visitor, how easy it is to get it wrong. It explores grief and the frustration resulting from the inability to reach shared understanding. Commissioned by Northumbria University’s School of Health, the play was later chosen for the a Strategic Health Authority conference on ‘Our NHS, Our Future’.
Out of Sight.
When Winterbourne View scandal was exposed by a Panorama programme and the place closed down and staff prosecuted, it might have been thought that this would be the end of institutional abuse at hospitals for people with learning disability. Sadly an almost identical case was exposed by the same programme in 2019, making this play, written in response to Winterbourne View regrettably relevant eight years on. The play features an encounter between the mother of a young man abused in a learning disability hospital, a care-worker who took part in the abuse and the commissioner who handed out the contract to the hospital. It questions whose fault it is that the abuse occurred – the care worker on a minimum wage under the influence of a bullying boss, or the commissioner, along with other bodies, whose checks on the hospital were clearly inadequate. Following a number of performances, the play was filmed and is now available for download and as a DVD with a learning package.
For the Best.
People with learning disabilities die on average 25 years younger than the rest of the population. Meanwhile only half of people with learning disability entitled to an annual health check actually receive it. This play addresses this situation. Performed for GP audiences, at NHS conferences around the country, and for the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, the play centres around a young care worker devastated when the patient with learning disability she has become fond of dies after an inadequate health check fails to spot a underlying condition. It also explores the system that led to the check being inadequate, and also the attitude of the young inexperienced GP inexperienced in dealing with a learning disability patient.
A Fair Cop
A play written for Active England and performed at a number of conferences and health summits. In it a devoted couch potato settles down to his beer and crisps only to find himself disturbed by a raid by the Exercise Police. Challenged by the good cop/ bad cop routine, the couch potato makes legitimate points about his refusal to exercise, including a general aversion to gyms and their over-enthusiastic lycra-clad inhabitants, and the body shaming which can result from this. A surreal but still serious examination of why some people are less motivated than others to take regular exercise.
So Sue Me
A play inspired by the White Paper ‘Choosing Health’ and commissioned by the UK Public Health Association for performance to professionals undertaking higher training in diabetes management. In the play, set in the future, an overweight woman aims to win cash in a TV game show in order to sue the company who made the ‘ slimming foods’ that made her fat. As she is confronted by the aggressive Jerry Springer style host, the play explores the question of who exactly is responsibility for obesity, is it the obese person themselves, or are there outside factors, such as the food industry marketing those supposed ‘ slimming foods.’
Another play commissioned by the UK Public Health Association and again set in the future. The Refusenik is about choice, specifically the right of the individual to make their own health choices, to stand up for their treats even when they’re not good for health. Ida May is a 70 year old woman who has just arrived in heaven, allegedly twenty years early according to official who interviews her. This results in an argument in which Ida May firmly maintains she would preferring a shortened life with her beloved clotted cream scones to a longer one of abstinence and warfarin and what she considered to be over-bearing health anxieties.
A Plane Ride Away
A third play set in the future for the UK Public Health Association. An examination of the inter-connectedness of global health, likely to become even more so in the future. It explores the fears and prejudices surrounding those issues from the point of view of a laddish lad determined not to be concerned about them. Smoking may be contraband in this world, but double decker jumbo jets increase the potential for infection on long haul flights. Then there’s avian flu – not to mention pollution. But fear and prejudice, it appears, still supersede them all.
A potentially fatal error occurs in the neo-natal ward of a hospital. What can and should be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again? A play commissioned with a grant from the National Patient Safety Agency, and which, with the accompanying workshop, short-listed Operating Theatre for the Times Educational Awards. The story based on some real junior doctor experiences, is extrapolated to show how easily small mistakes might lead to serious errors. Issues of professionalism, personalities, stress and compromise are all added to the melting pot that leads to a clinical error, the seriousness of which may not be known for many years and may never be highlighted. The doctor, nurse and the mother of the child are all involved.
A 20 minute film available as a DVD for personal study or to generate discussion in a workshop environment with an accompanying leaflet with suggested questions for its use. Frank, a fit man at 59 and a keen kayaker, dies after what should have been a routine operation. According to the surgeon, who calls to see him after the operation, all has gone well. But even after Frank complains of the pain, and his wife becomes worried, the junior doctor on duty maintains that it’s just soreness from the wound. The explores the systemic factors involved in the story, what part is played by the fact that the events occur at a weekend, as well as the presence of the familiar hospital hierarchy of junior doctor and consultant. As important as the exploration of the administrative and clinical failures, however, is the portrayal of the effect of Frank’s death on his family, the feelings of sorrow and guilt on the part of his widow who feels she was not more forceful when she saw him deteriorating, and her argument with her children who wish the hospital to acknowledge blame.
Letters Home is an intimate and moving portrayal of the strain on family relationships caused by anorexia. It was written by Julia Darling a founder member of Operating Theatre who died of cancer in 2005. First heard on Radio 4 as part of the “Posties” series, it was then adapted for live performance. It was presented at Live Theatre in Newcastle in a festival of Julia Darling’s work, and was regularly performed for students at Newcastle University Medical School. The play highlights the confusion and distress of a parent faced with a daughter who won’t eat, while at the same time exploring the attraction of the condition for the daughter, the sense of camaraderie and control she feels that it brings, both central issues in the treatment of anorexia.
Rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years. The play, written in response to the crisis in young mental health care, focuses particularly on the problem young people have in accessing help in a crisis – the ‘squirrels’ in question being a self-supporting group established when nothing else seems to be available. Currently the centre piece of a planned schools project in which the play will be embedded in a workshop to encourage students to discuss problems such as low mood and anxiety. This occurs in the presence of support staff and counsellors.
Lower Than the Surrounding Surface
It’s easy to forget that anything that affects a patient can just as easily affect the doctor too. A reflective portrayal of a student suffering from depression, unhappy at university, most probably on the wrong course, and miserable in the flat she shares with others. On the other side of the desk is her GP sympathetic and compassionate, but tired and harassed, and with her own problems, some of which align with her patient’s. Commissioned for mature medical students on an accelerated programme and particular designed to alert future doctors to keep an eye their own mental well-being.
Doors Opening.. Doors Closing
How does the grind of getting to work each day affect our mental well-being. Written for the UK Transport Research Centre’s national two-day Social Impacts and Social Equity Issues in Transport Conference, Doors Opening.. Doors Closing asks what are the stresses of the daily commute, what are the effects of the traffic jams, the queues and tailbacks, and the delays on the less than adequate public transport system on our everyday mental health. And what if anything can be done? Four widely different characters stuck on a Tyneside Metro debate the effects of commuting on their lives.
A Serious Incident
Commissioned by the Newcastle upon Tyne hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for its annual nursing conference. An inquiry into a patient’s pressure sore becomes an exploration of the nursing issues involved in in the care of elderly patients and the way that these can be legally exploited. Florence Nightingale, famous of course for her war on infection, comes to the defence of the distressed dedicated nurse on whose watch the sore occurred. Facing them is the unscrupulous lawyer who specialises in obtaining compensation for patients and their families at any perceived lack of care.
The Human Touch
Commissioned by Safer Care North East, the play looks at the acquiring of an infection in hospital from the patient’s point of view. Using research from patients, it explores the feelings of isolation, fear and even paranoia that those who have experienced extended stays in hospital after acquiring an infection report. It asks questions about fault and blame, how this plays out not just in the hospital environment but also in patients’ relationships. The male patient concerned finds himself at odds with his unsympathetic partner over his situation. Luckily he has Florence Nightingale for company.
Commissioned by Newcastle University School of Medical Education about the life of a patient on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant. The play was written using extensive research from renal patients, both those who have grown up with a renal condition and those, like the Crash Lander, for whom it has appeared suddenly. It explores what it means to have that three-times a week dialysis as a part of life, and what it’s like to be always waiting for that phone call which could mean the transplant. And then there’s all the other things in a kidney patient’s life, the impossibility of gaining insurance, the rigid diet and the disapproving looks from ladies across the coffee shop assuming the marks on an arm from the dialysis are those of a drug addict. The play is also available on film for download
Right.. ok.. um.. the thing is..
Some ailments are just frankly embarrassing with the potential for producing a difficult situation for both patient and a young doctor. A piece written and performed to highlight the importance of patient centred professionalism in medical education and ways in which it can be approached. The play looks at an encounter between a young man with an embarrassing problem and a GP whose aloofness also covers embarrassment. The audience being party to both of their inner thoughts during the encounter discover that ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’ is a maxim that entirely escapes the two
Black leather Seats and Big Bose Sound
Also about embarrassment, but in this case that of a young and under-dressed young man who covers his embarrassment at being treated by a female physiotherapist with bravado and inappropriate suggestions. Commissioned by Northumbria University’s School of Health for physiotherapists, it deals with themes of professionalism in the face of provocation whilst illuminating the bizarre rituals and unusual behaviour that health care encounters can induce. The title comes from the patient’s boastful description of his expensive top of the range car with accompanying sound system that he is suggesting the lucky female physio might enjoy.
An Everyday Story of Black Country Folk
A young white mother, a young black mother and a midwife meet at the surgery. Assumptions and stereotypes give way to an inadvertent racism that perhaps exists subconsciously in more of us than we may be comfortable to admit. Challenging and emotive, this story enables us to see how subtle institutional racism can be there in the health service although we might wish to deny it. And how often harm can be caused by those oblivious to their actions
Two plays commissioned by the British Association for the Advancement of Science as part of its Community X-change Programme
Further Adventures in Wonderland
The debate about the use of animals in medical research is presented by some of the famous characters from Alice in Wonderland. The Dormouse and the Mad Hatter debate the question of whether is it right for human beings to use animals to find cures for their diseases? Also in the play are Alice herself, in this case faced with the task of having to write an essay on the question of animal research, and her father, a world-famous scientist who uses animals in his laboratory.
An angry organic farmer confronts his local MP after he discovers a trial of genetically modified crops is to take place next to his farm which he firmly maintains cannot be prevented from spreading to his own fields. The play deals with the whole subject of genetically modified foods and the politics surrounding their production. Added to the mix are the vociferous arguments of the farmer’s daughter, a passionate anti-GM campaigner, plus the MP’s assistant, trying to make sense of the arguments and decide on which side he should come down.
A Bit of Respect
A sparky young woman on an alleged ‘ sink’ estate challenges the assumptions of a couple of new and rather naïve medical students visiting her as part of their pregnancy project. The play questions the automatic assumptions about teenage mothers, particularly in terms of behaviour and outlook. It considers the gains as well as the difficulties, opinions expressed with surprising articulation by the young mum-to-be not willing to be written off in terms of her life by the students. The two students, from different class backgrounds themselves, find themselves having to re-think a variety of prejudices.
What People Say
Very moving and believable.NHS Expo attendee on
For the Best
Since we did the workshops I’ve decided what I want to do.Real McCoy
Really funny and a great teaching toolPatient Safety Conference attendee on
Whose Leg is it Anyway?