Review – Frank and Percy, Theatre Royal Windsor, 14th June 2023

Frank and PercyThere are many reasons for going to see Ben Weatherill’s Frank and Percy at the Theatre Royal Windsor. My primary reason was the fact that, in 56 years of theatregoing, I had still never been to the Theatre Royal Windsor; and I realised this was an insupportable position that simply had to be put right.  And it’s a fascinating little place – elegantly tiered, comfortable seats (given it was built in 1910), welcoming bar, friendly staff and a surprisingly unornate interior. Above all, I am given to believe that you get a good view of the stage from almost every seat in the house, which has to be a massive bonus.

on the heathAnother reason for going is that Frank and Percy is a good production of a fairly good play with two very good performances. Let me elaborate. Frank (Roger Allam) takes his dog Toffee for her daily walk on Hampstead Heath and bumps into Percy (Ian McKellen) taking his dog Bruno for his. Naturally, they talk about their dogs. These daily chats become a habit, and the two men become friends. Both lead rather lonely lives. Frank is widowed, having lost his wife Alice, and Percy is estranged from his husband Dennis. As their friendship develops, a physical attraction also grows. Before long, they become a rather unlikely couple; Percy encouraging Frank’s realisation of his own bisexuality, Frank supporting Percy through health issues and a poor public reaction to his latest book. If they can get over the hurdle of Bruno getting severely injured whilst chasing sticks, they can get over anything, right? You’ll have to watch the play to find out!

Over drinksMorgan Large’s set is simple but extremely effective. A wooden back wall (inspired by a Hampstead park bench) parts to reveal a thickly verdant projection of dense trees; a similarly wooden revolving design on the stage becomes a woodland path, café tables and chairs, or domestic furniture. Scene numbers and locations are projected onto the back wall to keep us focused on the play’s progression. As for his costume design, there are a couple of surprise costume changes which I won’t spoil for you but got a round of applause all of their own.

PercyLike 4000 Miles, recently at Chichester, this is an elegantly written but episodically structured play, where the narrative is fragmented and most of writer Ben Weatherill’s efforts have gone in to filling out the minutest aspects of his two characters. As a result, we feel we know the personalities and attitudes of Frank and Percy intimately; the actual story, as such, once you get over the fact that Frank can be attracted to a man as well as a woman, is a little soap-operatic in style. Having said that, the play does also occasionally look at other themes, such as modern cancel culture, the state of the NHS  and karaoke choice disasters.

FrankMr Weatherill has given all the best lines to Sir Ian, who relishes every retort and funny aside that Frank delivers. Mr Allam, on the other hand, very much plays the straight man, no pun intended. Reunited after their pairing in Aladdin at the Old Vic, where Roger Allam gave us his Abbanazar to Sir Ian’s Widow Twankey, they clearly have a brilliant working relationship and friendship, and make a dream team in this exploration of late-flowering love. Choosing tiesAlthough neither actor was word perfect on press night, they still nailed the show superbly well; Mr Allam is excellent conveying his slow discovery of Frank’s potential for a relationship post-Alice, and Sir Ian never misses a trick in revealing Percy’s naughty but genuinely emotional heart, even when he tries to conceal it behind cruel words.

If I have a criticism, perhaps the play itself could have been a little more daring, a little more punchy; it’s all very feelgood and neat – there’s nothing here that would shock your most elderly relatives! Nevertheless, all in all, a very enjoyable production with a couple of acting greats doing what they do best! Frank and Percy is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor until 22nd July and then transfers to the Theatre Royal Bath until 5th August.

Production photos by Jack Merriman


Four They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

Review – Assassins, Festival Theatre, Chichester, 8th June 2023

AssassinsThe second show of our Chichester theatre day – and the second not to have an interval, which I’m assuming is a bizarre coincidence – was Assassins, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s 1990 musical about the nichiest of niche subjects. Not only is it about assassins, and not only about assassins of American presidents, but it even incorporates failed assassins of American presidents. You can’t help but wonder if Sondheim could have benefited from a few sessions on the psychiatrist’s couch at the time.

Assassins stageThere’s something about this show that inspires directors and designers to think outside the box when it comes to arresting their audiences’ attention. When we saw it at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2015, the foyer and auditorium were decked out as if it were a spooky old fashioned fairground. That makes sense; the original setting for the show starts at a fairground shooting gallery. But at Chichester director Polly Findlay and designer Lizzie Clachan have gone one stage further (in fact, probably several stages further), as the Festival Theatre is currently transformed into one huge American Presidential Party Convention, all stars and stripes and dancing mascots, the band in MAGA hats (with the acronym MAGA removed, probably wisely), a political glitterfest if ever there was one. Uncle Sam would be having a Field Day. Not only that, the foyer is 100% American, with flags and banners; even the tranquil Chichester open space now hosts a hot dog and burger van.

White HouseThe initial impact when you enter the auditorium is sensational, with so much colour, action, music and fun. And when the centre stage opens to reveal the White House Oval Office, there’s absolutely no room for misinterpreting the focus of the production. The final scene will reveal the office in tatters, clearly alluding to the 2021 Trump-inspired storming of the Capitol. The proprietor (a galvanizingly slick and cynical portrayal by Peter Forbes), who traditionally is the owner of the fairground, is here transformed into a generic American president of the current era – a mix of Trump, Nixon and maybe a spot of George Dubya thrown in for good measure. A master showman, he takes control of the event. There are already a few assassins present, but the proprietor invites members of the audience to come up to join them and maybe take a pot shot at a President; after all, it will make their inadequate and troubled lives so much more worthwhile. Obligingly, Leon Czolgosz and John Hinckley make their way to the stage; think The Price is Right but with added weaponry.

Balladeer 1By the time the opening number – the incredibly cynical Everybody’s Got the Right (to be happy) – is over, there’s an incredible sense of satisfaction and excitement filling the auditorium. But there’s one more big modernisation shock for the audience – the role of the balladeer has now been split into three roving news reporters, representing CNN, MSNBC and Fox – so at least two of them are respectable. Huge video screens either side of the stage bring us live coverage of news developments at the assassinations (or wannabe assassinations) giving it a very strong up-to-date vibe. This all feels so innovative, so exhilarating; it’s everything you want from a spectacular night out. In fact, you’ve already nailed your own five-star reaction to your own individual mast.

BoothBut then something strange occurs. Having peaked so early, and so brilliantly, there’s really only one direction of travel for this show – downwards. It’s like you’ve experienced an extraordinary sugar rush; and then half an hour later, you’re starving. I think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it’s far from Sondheim’s best score. There’s only one other song in it that – for me – stands out, Another National Anthem. In effect, musically, there’s nothing to match the visuals that the production constantly hurls at us; you won’t find anything of the nature of the Star Spangled Banner here. Apart from that, my own feeling is that the nature of the show is more contemplative and introverted than befits this framework. For sure, some of the assassins are strong, riveting characters; John Wilkes Booth, for example, is portrayed as totally driven and Charles Guiteau is a mass of vanity and self-confidence. However, the essentially feeble, misfit nature of most of the other characters tends to weigh heavily on the atmosphere of the show. As a result, there’s a disconnect between the brash pizzazz of its style and its actual content, which tends to get dwarfed or drowned out.

GuiteauNevertheless, there are plenty of stand-out moments; the deaths of the assassins (those who die, that is) are portrayed spectacularly, with Booth taking his own life on a bale of hay, Zangara virtually strobed to death on the Electric Chair, and Guiteau prancing and preening his way through his hanging. And the use of the real footage of the assassination of John F Kennedy brings a horrific lump to your throat, with immaculate split-second timing of the excellent Samuel Thomas’ Lee Harvey Oswald poking his gun through the back curtain at precisely the right moment.

Moore and DyerThe show boasts an ensemble of superb practitioners of musical theatre. Danny Mac is incredibly good as Booth, full of attack and presence, manipulating and proud. Harry Hepple shines as Guiteau, his irrepressible vanity and showmanship busting through every move. Carly Mercedes Dyer and Amy Booth-Steel are a delightful double act as Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, the wannabe assassins of Gerald Ford (a hilarious brief cameo from Bob Harms). Jack Shalloo is a deeply disturbed John Hinckley, willing to assassinate Reagan to impress Jodie Foster, and Nick Holder puts in a strong performance as Samuel Byck, the degraded Santa Claus, who attempts to assassinate Nixon. It’s a very tough role, as Weidman gives Byck long and intense speeches, which are unbalanced with the style of the rest of the book, but Mr Holder keeps our attention throughout. The always reliable Liam Tamne cuts a fine figure as Balladeer 1, his rich voice working to maximum effect. But everyone puts in an excellent performance; there’s not a weak spot in the cast.

Hinckley and ProprietorGiven all the spark and brashness of the production values, I was surprised to see, at the end of our performance (which was the final preview), that it garnered a muted response from the audience. I was expecting a general roar and massive standing ovation, but no; and I think the cast were disappointed too. Trouble is, it’s not the kind of show that sends you out on a high. In fact, the show ends when everyone on stage points their guns at individual members of the audience, eyeballing us directly to create maximum discomfort; so it’s no wonder our mood plummets.

It's all for TVBrought bang up to date, and with more glitz than you could shake a stick at, it’s doubtless a landmark production. But there’s something, somewhere about it that just doesn’t quite work. If you’re an aficionado of Sondheim, you’ll want to see this show and draw your own conclusions about how successful it is or isn’t. It’s not an easy ride – but it is an unforgettable one.

Production photos by Johan Persson

4-starsFour They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

Review – 4000 Miles, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, 8th June 2023

4000 MilesExcited to make our first visit to Chichester for this summer season, although the choice of play – Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles at the Minerva Theatre – wasn’t our primary reason for attending this production. Talk about the sin of omission, but over 56 years of theatregoing, gentle reader, this was the first time I’ve seen the great and renowned Eileen Atkins on stage. And I’ve certainly been missing a treat – more of which later.

Leo and VeraVera lives alone in her Manhattan apartment, widowed for many years, but still sharp as a tack. In the middle of the night, her grandson Leo appears at her door, clad in cycling gear, wheeling in his bike. Apparently, he’s cycled all the way across the country – hence the 4000 Miles in the title. Vera encourages him to stay, despite initially not appearing warm and fuzzy at this night-time intrusion. And he does stay; and for a time they make a familial odd couple. But eventually he has to leave when he is offered a new job at thousands of miles away.

Bec and LeoIf that doesn’t sound like much of a plot, that’s because it isn’t. Although there is a subtle and not always obvious narrative to the piece, it’s much more character-driven than plot-driven. Amy Herzog has structured the play as a series of elegantly written and witty episodes showing aspects of their co-existence; cantankerous phone calls with the next door neighbour, unsuccessfully bringing girlfriends back, getting stoned together, finding out about each other’s past, sharing their mutual discomfort with Leo’s mother, Vera’s daughter.

Amanda and LeoWhere the play is very successful is suggesting the affliction common to all the people in the play and in their wider orbits; namely, a general inability to communicate clearly and effectively. Even in the very first scene, Vera – inexplicably – mumbles her words into a hanky so that no one can understand what she says. Furthermore, she doesn’t know how to talk to her daughter, Leo finds it difficult to communicate with Bec, and struggles to express his feelings at the loss of his best friend on the bike journey. Amanda allows a misunderstanding of Vera’s political affiliations to destroy a possible relationship with Leo. There is even a suggestion that Leo might have acted sexually improperly with his adopted sister, but when confronted with that suggestion the truth of the matter feels very obfuscated. All this education and intelligence and such poor communication skills!

Vera and LeoHowever, although the fragmentary nature of the play means you are constantly surprised by where it will take you next, it also means it feels slight and unsubstantial. The climax of the play is rather on a hiding to nothing; it definitely needs a stronger resolution.

Leo and VeraIf you’re a booklover, the moment you enter the Minerva auditorium your attention is instantly captured by the fantastic bookshelves on the back wall of the set. I could really live in that Manhattan apartment, I said to myself ; remind me to engage the services of Peter McKintosh (set and costume designer) when I need my flat redesigning. Doors and corridors lead from the centre stage out to kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and beyond; it’s a very neat design making a small space appear much bigger than it is.

LeoPlaying Leo is Sebastian Croft – a new name to me but I understand he made a big impact in Netflix’s Heartstopper, and at the tender age of 21 he clearly has acting maturity way beyond his years. He has excellent stage presence and a great feel for the comic and tragic potential of the text. There’s also great support from Nell Barlow as ex-girlfriend Bec who doesn’t know what she wants from life let alone from a relationship, and from Elizabeth Chu who gives us a lively and entertaining cameo as the slightly maniacal Amanda.

VeraBut, of course, all eyes are on Dame Eileen, and she is riveting from the start. Conveying all aspects of Vera’s character with her devilishly amusing turns of phrase, deliberate silences, unconcealed irritation with the neighbour and so much more, it’s a performance of studied, nuanced, delicate bliss. Dame Eileen and Mr Croft make a terrific partnership on stage too – I wonder how many times the two leading performers in a play have had such an age difference – in this case, there’s 67 years between the two. But those age extremes truly add a vigour to the whole performance, which makes this play, despite its faults, work beautifully. Thoroughly enjoyable and terrific fun.

P. S. I must say I’ve never seen such a relaxed group of stagehands regularly come on to set up the next scene; I guess when a play is only 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval) there’s no reason to move with any urgency!

Production photos by Manuel Harlan

4-starsFour They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

Review – Happy Birthday Sunita, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 6th July 2023

Happy Birthday SunitaThe trouble with a title like Happy Birthday Sunita is that it can give you all sorts of false expectations. Is this going to be something frothy and light, like a stage version of The Kumars at No 42? Or something punchier, maybe a Punjabi Abigail’s Party? Decades ago I saw a play called Happy Birthday by Marc Camoletti, with a plot description that sounded racy but in fact was one of the mildest, generic pieces of writing I can recall. So, I must tell you, gentle reader, that I assumed that Happy Birthday Sunita would be something similarly bland.

Happy birthdayBut, as you know, assume makes an ass out of u and me, and I am delighted to report that this is an entertaining, thought-provoking, and prejudice-challenging little nugget of drama. It is a little nugget though, coming in at barely over 1 hour 35 minutes including a 20 minute interval. I am a massive supporter of having an interval if possible, despite the current trend to perform shows all the way through without a break; but I was perhaps surprised that it wasn’t shown as a one-act play.

Tejpal in her kitchenIt’s Sunita’s 40th birthday, and her mum, brother and sister in law have come to celebrate with her. Dad is out in India, and has been for some years, but Sunita is convinced he will return for a surprise visit on this auspicious occasion. It’s also an opportunity for her mum, Tejpal, to show off her beautiful, brand spanking new kitchen. Sunita doesn’t want this party, so she skulks upstairs whilst the others make the preparations. Nav, her brother, has forgotten to collect the special eggless birthday cake from the shop, much to Tejpal’s annoyance – but she makes a phone call and says that everything will be sorted. They’re just about to sit down for dinner when a surprise guest arrives – kitchen-fitter Maurice. What’s he doing there? You’ll have to watch the show to find out!

Party tableBeautifully written and structured by Harvey Virdi, and crisply directed by Pravesh Kumar, from a quiet start the play builds to a rich crescendo, reminiscent of an Indian Ayckbourn, with its subtle digs at family relationships and surprising domestic outcomes. Nav’s wife Harleen finds it difficult to integrate with her husband’s family, no matter how enthusiastic she tries to come across; although the two met at a Sikh disco at university, their differing backgrounds and interests form a barrier between them. This is nicely contrasted with the other “outsider”, Maurice, an east London geezer made good, whose background Nav challenges with allegations of a racist past; but it turns out that Maurice can speak Punjabi better than Harleen.

Prosecco timeThere are some amusing nods to racial stereotypes; what appears to the Brits as garish taste, with the multicolour lighting in the kitchen akin to an Indian restaurant, the picture of the guru on the wall that lights up and plays an irritating tune every so often to remind you to give him a blessing, and the fact that the beautiful new kitchen is primarily for show and the old kitchen has been rebuilt at the back for continued general use. You lot do love your extensions! claims Maurice, with a mixture of latent racism and appreciation of the profit it gives him. And 40 year old, unmarried Sunita is a picture of barely-suppressed resentment at having been forbidden to go to university because she was just meant to become a stay-at-home wife and mum. She is jealous of the opportunities that both Nav and Harleen had by being able to go off and find their own path.

Dance timeAnd if there is a lesson (terrible word) to be learned from the play it’s how vital it is for everyone to be who and what they want to be; to choose education, or to choose to be in a relationship, to choose whether to have children, or to choose to abandon religious conventions. Everyone learns; and by the end of the play, all the characters have moved on, with greater self-awareness, and all in a better place. It’s a really optimistic piece of writing!

Harleen and TejpalEach member of the cast puts in a terrific performance. Divya Seth Shah is excellent as Tejpal, the dominant matriarch who wants the best for everyone, always giving the same little shriek if her prosecco is topped up too high, cringing at Harleen’s overenthusiastic hugs, but not above having her own agenda when it suits her. I really enjoyed Rameet Rauli’s performance as Harleen, fashion-conscious (unlike the rest of the family), image-conscious, and health-conscious, but only if it’s part of her image. She superbly conveys that slight awkwardness of being part of a family that doesn’t really accept her – and that she’s not always sure she wants to accept them back.

SunitaBhawna Bhawsar portrays Sunita as a character who has lost her spark; revelling in the hope that her father still loves her, she struggles to find her own identity. You sense that Sunita truly has some mental health issues and she’s on the cusp of something serious if she’s not careful. Devesh Kishore’s Nav is a smart presentation of someone who primarily looks after himself, the son who was always considered top dog in the family; and Keiron Crook is excellent as Maurice, the catalyst for change, storming in where angels fear to tread, and creating an entertainingly culturally different element for the family to cope with.

Harleen and SunitaProduced by the Rifco Theatre Company, the show is halfway through its tour and after it’s completed its week at Northampton, travels on to Leeds, Warwick, Ipswich and Peterborough. Funny, sad and challenging, it’s a production full of heart and gives you a lot to talk about on the way home. What a waste of a beautiful birthday cake though. Eggless too!

Production photos by Ellie Kurttz

4-starsFour They’re Jolly Good Fellows!

The Points of View Challenge – Mademoiselle Pearl – Guy de Maupassant

Guy de MaupassantHenri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (1850 – 1893)

French writer, best known for his short stories.

Mademoiselle Pearl, first published in Le Figaro literary supplement, 16th January 1886, then in the collection La Petite Roque.

Available to read online here – please note, this is a different translation from that published in the Points of View volume.

This is the second of four stories in the volume Points of View to be given the style classification by Moffett and McElheny of Memoir, or Observer Narration. From their introduction: “Three of the stories that follow bear the name of the third person, not the narrator of the story. Although all four feature someone other than the narrator, the autobiographical element is still necessarily strong. In fact, the essence of these stories may be in the resonance between the narrator and his subject: something happens in the protagonist that resounds in the narrator.”

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t read the story yet and want to before you read the summary of it below, stop now!


Mademoiselle Pearl


Mademoiselle PerleOur narrator, Gaston, recollects a time when he visited his old friends the Chantal family to celebrate Epiphany. Chantal had been a friend of Gaston’s father, and he has known the family for decades; Chantal, his wife Christine, and their two daughters Louise and Pauline. Making up the household is Mademoiselle Pearl, who acts as a housekeeper, but is considered a close member of the family. A traditional game takes place at Epiphany, where someone at the table will discover a lucky bean in the Twelfth Night Cake. This year it is Gaston who finds the bean. Whoever finds the bean is King for the night and must choose his Queen. Gaston considers the awkwardness of choosing between any of the female members of the Chantal family and so chooses Mlle Pearl – who is hugely embarrassed at the honour.

Gaston realises in an instant just how attractive Mlle Pearl really is, even though she dresses like an old maid. After dinner, over cigars and billiards, Gaston asks Chantal how Mlle Pearl fits in to the family – is she a relative? Surprised that Gaston doesn’t know the background, he tells him the story of how one snowy night a six-week old child was discovered left outside their house – clearly loved and cared for, and with a large sum of money in the baby carriage for anyone who took care of her. The Chantals brought her into the family and raised her as their own. But Mme Chantal was keen to delineate between her own children and a foundling, so Pearl became the housekeeper – and was grateful to be given that role.

Gaston can tell from Chantal’s tone that it was always Pearl whom he loved, and not Charlotte. He confronts him with that recognition and Chantal sobs emotional tears at the thought of the love he was never able to have. Later, Gaston also confronts Pearl to discover if she felt the same way; her actions tell him that she did: “She slipped from her chair to the floor and sank slowly, softly, across it, like a falling scarf.”

Reflecting on his actions, Gaston concludes that he did the right thing. “I walked away with great strides, sick at heart and my mind full of remorse and regret. And at the same time I was almost happy; it seemed to me that I had done a praiseworthy action.”

This is a gentle story, packed with a formal elegance, but which delivers a kick and a twist right at the end. Written with gorgeous delicacy but also unexpectedly funny at times, Maupassant has a lovely feel for the pace of the writing, allowing himself time to go into considerable detail – not fully necessary for our understanding of the story – just because he wants to paint his splendid verbal pictures. An example of this is the long narration of how the baby was found outside the house, which could have been explained in an instant rather than taking up a good quarter of the entire short story.

There are some beautiful and thought-provoking observations; I love how he attributes shapes to thoughts – “Why do I always think that Mme Chantal’s thoughts are square? […] There are other people whose thoughts always seem to me round and rolling like circles […] Other persons have pointed thoughts… But this is somewhat irrelevant.” Maupassant has a very refined way of expressing some of the seedier side of life; in describing the “new quarter” of Paris, on the other side of the Seine, he describes “quarters inhabited by a strange noisy people, with the shakiest notions of honesty, who spent their days in dissipation, their nights feasting, and threw money out of the windows”.

It’s also entertaining to see how Gaston subtly disapproves of the Chantals’ cossetted lifestyle: “the father himself is a charming man, very cultured, very frank, very friendly, but desirous of nothing so much as repose, quiet and tranquillity, and mainly instrumental in mummifying his family into mere symbols of his will, living and having their being in a stagnant peacefulness.” His is a gloved hand, that conceals plenty of barbs. Perhaps it is no surprise that he confronts Chantal and Pearl with such open criticism.

The reader may well ask themselves if Gaston’s actions are justified. Yes, he has revealed to Chantal and Pearl their own truths; on the downside he has shattered the peace of their existence, which no doubt will have repercussions throughout the entire family. Personally I find Gaston’s self-justification rather pig-headed and pompous; he needs to exonerate himself so asks us to agree with him. But do we? All in all, a superb little tale.

The next story in the anthology is the third of four classified by Moffett and McElheny as memoir, or observer narration, The Tryst by Ivan Turgenev.

Review – Who Cares 2032 – an interactive digital experience co-produced by the Royal and Derngate Northampton, Hydrocracker and Deafconnect – 1st June 2023

Who Cares 2032The time is 2032; nine years into the future – that’s not that far away. The NHS has remained starved of resources so that it is teetering on the brink of non-existence. Care workers have left the profession in their droves due to poor wages and conditions – there’s just not enough bitcoin to go around. But the government has come up with a potentially smart solution – the Contact App. Is it the cure-all for saving lives in an even worse case scenario than we’re currently facing – or is it an unethical intrusion that marketizes the care industry?

MishJem Wall and Nathan Crossan-Smith have devised this new, challenging and interactive experience, which you can watch and engage with from the privacy of your own laptop. Remember Casper the Friendly Ghost? Who Cares 2032 features another very friendly ghost, Doctor Anna, who loves nothing more than a spot of digital haunting and putting you in control of the future of the nation’s healthcare. She gatecrashes our online lecture to make us face a very important choice. If we want to, we can corrupt the code that will create the Contact App, thus taking it out of society for ever; or, we can let history takes its course and allow it to be introduced. Obviously, that’s a decision that none of us can take lightly, and over the course of a little over an hour Doctor Anna poses some difficult ethical and moral questions for us, and, try as we might, there’s no sitting on the fence with this one.

Mish and GrahamWe’re already used to the concept of having medical appointments over the Internet – for the most part, it’s quicker, easier, and can provide a good back-up service to the general public. So what’s the problem with the Contact App, surely it’s just the natural next stage of development? That’s certainly the attitude of young, deaf, Mish, who finds using it is her primary access to health provision and also allows her to keep tabs on her general health and wellbeing on a regular basis. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with middle-aged Graham in Joe’s Café and encourages him to sign up to the App too. But Graham is from a less technologically trusting era, and insists he doesn’t need the intervention of an interfering and nosy wristband telling him what to do. Are you like Mish, or are you like Graham? As we discover more and more about the App, its benefits and its deficiencies become clearer. How will you respond when Anna finally gets you to nail your colours to the mast?

MishThis is a very entertaining, challenging and intense piece of interactive drama. You have to concentrate hard on what’s going on, as sometimes Anna will put a question to you that demands some time to reflect over. There are no hard and fast easy answers here – but there a lot of soft and slow difficult ones! It’s an invigorating blend of rigorous intellectual stimulation and genuine emotional response, and I found myself quite moved by some of the situations and people to whom we are introduced. At one stage, you can pick and choose to listen to the experiences of a number of people – carers, a teacher, a student, family members; each bearing first-hand witness to the problems of providing healthcare in 2032. Give yourself time to consider the evidence of their lives; you might find, like I did, that during the experience you change your mind.

Graham and MishIt’s very smartly written, with several amusing local references, and a few off-guard moments from Anna that had me snorting with laughter. Faith Omole provides the voice of Anna, and she really gets into your psyche; before long you find yourself telling her all sorts of private things that you wouldn’t normally tell anyone – but rest assured, what happens between you and Anna stays with you and Anna. One exception to this – you can choose to publish your reasoning for either allowing the App to go ahead or nipping it in the bud on a legacy wall; entirely your decision. Jude Akuwudike voices Oladipo, a diabetes nurse, who can only see the benefits provided by the App. Rhiannon May plays Mish with a nice balance of Generation Alpha cynicism and respect for the older Graham’s concerns and feelings, if not his choice of breakfasts; and co-creator Jem Wall plays the decent but backward-looking Graham, who is appalled by the App’s lack of privacy but eventually moves with the times. Other characters are played by members of the Community Actors Company and people who work with Deafconnect, the local charity who are also co-producing the experience.

Contact AppIf I took away one overriding message from the show it would be that it wants to make us think. It wants to make us consider playing a part in framing the health policies that will shape our future. Whether you opt to corrupt the code or push forward with it, this is a highly responsible moment for us all. Pay What You Can for a ticket – £5 is suggested, but not compulsory; and your payment will give you a link to the show that you can watch as many times as you like until the end of July. Visit the Royal and Derngate website for more details, or simply click here. After all, it’s not every day a ghost gives you the opportunity of changing the future of healthcare in the country for ever!