The fight is for the existence of the National Health Service and the play, This May Hurt a Bit, is a brilliantly conceived work of agit-prop that begins with Aneurin Bevan’s address to Parliament in 1947 and almost ends with the chill words of Margaret Thatcher, spoken by a budgerigar.
Between the two, the Out of Joint production directed by Max Stafford-Clark introduces doctors and nurses, patients, hospital boards, finance directors, politicians, porters, prisoners, paramedics and an American consultant.
All are lined up to show, in vivid underlining and witty songs, what is really happening to the health service that has been the envy of the world for more than 60 years, under our eyes and apparently without our noticing.
The audience for the second night of the play at Bristol Old Vic (where it plays until Saturday 3rd May) was an unusual one, and the foyer was lined by NHS staff keen to catch the shocked audiences before they returned to the complacency of home.
This is a time when national and local authorities have gleefully taken their scalpels to the funding of the arts as well as to the budgets of hospitals and health providers, so it particularly heartening to see a ground-swell led by one of our leading companies in this stunning play.
It is an ensemble piece, with local resident Stephanie Cole as an octogenarian suddenly thrown on the mercies of the 2014 health service, Jane Wymark as her daughter, wife of the arrogant and self regarding American consultant who sees the shift of the NHS to the US model as a good thing for all concerned.
This play should be compulsory viewing for the funders and the parliamentarians, but also for the general public, whose voices will have to be raised, loudly and quickly, if the haemorrhage of one of our greatest institutions is to be stemmed before the Grim Reaper (who also makes an appearance in the play) arrives on the steps of all our hospitals. I wonder which television company would dare?