My decision to review Moment Of Grace and Watching Rosie together was really based on the knowledge that neither play was particularly long and that the second was specifically advertised as short. However, I discovered at least two other aspects which knitted them together rather neatly. Both are three handers and both deal with aspects of health which have a particular resonance with our current situation in riding out the pandemic.
The first piece Moment Of Grace by Bren Gosling takes us back to the 1980s and the last time the country faced a crisis over a virus. This was HIV and in 1987 Princess Diana caused a sensation when she visited a newly formed unit at the London Middlesex hospital and did not wear protective clothing – what we would today call PPE. Furthermore, to publicly challenge the notion that the virus was passed on by touch she shook a patient’s hand; a small seemingly insignificant gesture but which did more to bust myths than any amount of usual PR. Alas for Boris Johnson, when he tried the same trick at the start of the current pandemic he came royally unstuck.
The play is structured as a trio of interlocking monologues although the narrative of one of the strands at first seems tangential to the other two. Jude is a young nurse who has taken up a position in the unit. Although she seems a little disillusioned with life, we soon come to realise that she is not about to give up her calling anytime soon. One of her patients is Andrew a young man who has the virus and is highly likely to die. Because of his lifestyle choices he has become estranged from his family and in their absence he forms a close bond with his nurse. The third character, Donnie, is an Essex fireman who sees Diana’s visit on the news. He has not seen his son for years after a family rift. At this point it seems a bit obvious where the plot is going… but it doesn’t. Gosling has been rather cleverer than that and being wrong footed is one of the pleasures of the piece. It turns out that Donnie is bound up in the central story – just not in the way we automatically assume.
Both Jude and Andrew are excited by the impending royal visit and what it will mean to the world’s press, but Gosling also reveals their concern over being “outed”. Andrew’s friends and employer only know that he is in hospital, not why, and he fears they will reject him. Jude is similarly concerned about uniformed prejudice and that her landlord, dreading transferred contamination, will ask her to leave her home. They are representative of the ward as a whole who almost universally refuse to be photographed for fear of reprisals – even THE famous image does not show the patient’s face.
The trio of actors give heartfelt winning performances. Lucy Walker-Evans embodies the dedicated NHS worker we would all want at our bedside should we be hospitalised; she is dedicated, charming and totally down to earth. With Donnie, as played by Andrew Paul, we feel a little more ambivalent as the story unfolds, especially as, at first, the character seems disconnected from the main events. We are left asking how far have his reactionary attitudes contributed to the family crisis? The outstanding performance of the piece comes from Luke Dayhill as patient Andrew. The terror in his eyes as the camera closes in and a tear rolls down his cheek is gut wrenching. Director Nicky Allpress has created a hybrid film/performance piece which is perfectly in tune with its subject matter and the many resonances with our current situation make this a memorable contribution to online theatre.