'This Might Not Be It' review — devastatingly accurate vision of the NHS's crumbling mental health service
Read our four-star review of This Might Not Be It, now in performances at the Bush Theatre to 7 March.
Theatre is not short of plays on health in 2024. Nye and The Human Body – both about the NHS – open later this month, and Next to Normal, which follows a mother as she battles bipolar disorder, heads to the West End this summer. But it would be a mistake to disregard Sophia Chetin-Leuner’s new play This Might Not Be It as just another show about mental health.
Her writing stands out and says something new by showing a system in crisis through the tired eyes of those who work behind the scenes: NHS administrators Angela (Debra Baker) and Jay (Denzel Baidoo), who field calls, refer suicidal people to Crisis, and store patient information in stack upon stack of files. Angela has been doing the same job in NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for 35 years, while temp worker Jay is using the job as a necessary reference to begin his career as an occupational therapist.
They are working in a service that Chetin-Leuner takes pains to show is hopelessly underperforming, letting down those like 17-year-old Beth (Dolly Webb), who is about to slip through the cracks as she passes into an adult mental health pathway. Even the tired, wheezing printer takes an eternity to print out one referral.
Chetin-Leuner’s vision of the NHS is perceptive and devastatingly accurate, and her characters are so well drawn that they convey all the nuances of real people. Baker, in particular, impresses as straight-talking Angela, rattling off old stories in between mouthfuls of tea. Baidoo, who is fresh from his run in James Graham’s Dear England, gives an emotionally layered performance as Jay, conveying the optimism of youth as well as the burden of care-giving.
Their communication style at the beginning of the play is flawed, cutting one another off, changing the topic and struggling to straddle a generational divide. But as the show progresses, Angela and Jay form a connection and actually listen to each other. Angela reveals why she didn’t become a psychiatric nurse and Jay opens up about the pressures of caring for his family. It’s no longer a battle. They show the value in sharing and the importance of protecting the system that is crumbling around them.
Webb’s Beth articulates the vulnerability of those trapped on NHS waiting lists but she feels underused, as though her role has been awkwardly worked into the script to drive the development of the other characters.
Every detail has been considered in Alys Whitehead’s realist, The Office-inspired set design. Stacks of files clutter every available surface, waste paper baskets overflow in corners of the room, and a small reception area covered in NHS support posters hovers over the rest of the set. Those who set foot inside the reception area appear ludicrously large for the room, hunched over and starved of space.
It’s a subtle way of conveying the lack of room given to those who need help. But if Angela and Jay can change, maybe there’s hope for the system too.
This Might Not Be It is at the Bush Theatre until 7 March. Book This Might Not Be It tickets on London Theatre.
Photo credit: Debra Baker and Denzel Baidoo in This Might Not Be It. (Photo by Ellie Kurttz)
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