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Quick Change Reviews: Adam Kay - This Is Going To Hurt (Garrick Theatre)


Adam Kay has a bunch of achievements under his belt. He completed medical school specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology making it all the way to Senior Registrar, he then left that job and in 2017 released his best-selling novel, This Is Going To Hurt, based on his diary entries on the job, and now works as a comedy writer for stage and TV. In 2019, he released sister book, Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas, for anybody struggling for a stocking filler for the NHS workers in their life. His other achievements include: removing various objects from vaginas, including a Kinder Egg and a set of Christmas tree lights, and delivering a baby whilst still erect from his break-time wank. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the book, now you know the essence.

Whether you’ve heard the stories before, or you settle down into the theatre seat with a prosecco and bag of Minstrels unknown to what you’re about to see during your Saturday night out, Kay’s live show is one to remember. Though, be careful about when you’re eating your snacks - some stories may cause you to choke on them. He's gone from delivering babies, to delivering stories from the NHS frontline that you will never forget.

Standing at a table shaped like a pill container, he gives an often outrageous, sometimes filthy and a little bit gory, whistle-stop tour of his six years working in “brats and twats”. We start perhaps innocently, with an email address identifying him as ‘Atom Kay’ before moving on to laugh out loud hilarious anecdotes including a patient who wonders whether one morning after pill would be enough, considering she’d had sex with three partners the night previous. That’s before getting to the ugly where another patient, having suffered a rather traumatic encounter with a lampost, innocently asks whether his penis can be “re-gloved”. Delivered deadpan, but received with awkward grimaces and groans, the tit-bits of insight into the Obs and Gynae ward are lapped up in the same way as when you start watching a “best Vines compilation” thread and you just can’t stop yourself wanting more.

In between his readings, Kay without a word pops over to a keyboard to deliver symptoms and diagnoses as outrageously re-imagined pop songs. He’s no songbird, and his charisma can be summarised in that he was drinking from a urine sample cup, but there lies the absolute fascination he attracts. The ongoing highlight is that throughout the show, Kay quizzes the audience using revamped verses of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, leaving it up to us to diagnose the patient with a four syllable condition; (Spoiler: the answers include ‘yellow fever’, ‘alopecia’ and ‘paranoia’.) The unidentifiable mumbles from a West End theatre just shows A) how profitable oversharing about your day job can be, when B) we’re all probably a bit guilty of being absolutely clueless when we’re poorly, so find ourselves Googling symptoms, panicking and calling 111.

Kay transforms Phil Collins’ iconic “take a look at me now” line and mimics patient’s pleads to take a look at their nan, who like the rest, presumably need a hip replacement. A Bonnie Tyler classic answers what anaesthetists really do whilst surgery takes place; as well as reading the paper and flirting, they measure the lines of the heart. From OCD to depression to wheezing, no diagnosis is safe from Kay’s silly spoof songs. Intelligent wordplay and quick wit extends to poems of letters to GPs and a guide to how to run a clinic in just three minutes set to the tune of ‘Eternal Flame’ that essentially begins with “come in and take a seat” and ends with “if it hasn’t gone away in a month, make a new appointment and come back.” A parody of ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ citing his new drug discovery that will cure all and provide just a few, potentially fatal side effects. But it’s okay because it’s cheap, so the NHS will use it.

As the 70 minute show progresses, Kay’s intriguingly dry performance becomes a harder pill to swallow. He gradually stops picking on the Medical Student sat four rows back (though admittedly, the poor guy under pressure did confuse a hysteroscopy with a hysterectomy), and becomes more aloof as he casually recites the consequence of working 90 hour weeks and being transferred hospitals yearly. He recalls falling asleep in his car after a night-shift on Christmas Eve, only to wake up to a phone call and get back onto the ward, and how he was inevitably hours late to collect his things from the flat he shared with his partner when the job eventually caused their split. The swift snipes at Jeremy Hunt and other various politicians turn from being tongue in cheek to something much more sinister, terrifying and poignant.

Kay reads his final diary entry and tells the story of a patient for whom scans had missed a serious diagnosis that tragically resulted in the loss of a baby. He recites the story for the 400th time and it’s clear that it gets no easier. He talks candidly about the experience that ultimately caused him to leave medicine and how it was only when the book was released, did his family know why. The final message sees Kay urging the audience to get involved in conversations around the future of the NHS and present the side on behalf of those working on the frontline, who are too busy treating patients and saving lives to fight for themselves. He urges us to champion them, to appreciate and applaud anybody who works for the NHS.

Kay remembers that after every delivery he made, he suggested to the parents that “Adam is a great name!” On one occasion, the parents agreed and named their baby after him. Turns out, statistically on the number of babies he delivered he had managed to put off eight parents from calling their baby, Adam. A message to them: do you realise the mistake you made?!

This Is Going To Hurt tours the UK this year, more info and tickets here

After each show, Kay asks for donations for The Lullaby Trust.


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