Review by Carly Fisher
I am a major fan of Verbatim theatre - have been since I was 17. With that, I know how Verbatim theatre can be done right and how too often it can be relegated to a black box theatre, or to a story told basically and from chairs. Rarely do you have the opportunity to see really high quality new Verbatim pieces come to the stage. Tending is one such opportunity.
I will be honest and start this review by saying that of all the shows I’ve seen thus far at this year’s fringe, this is comfortably one of my favourites.
Inspired by her best friend, a nurse in the NHS, El Blackwood has clearly conducted a great number of interviews and spent an enormous amount of time and work curating the stories into this brilliant flow. Blackwood also plays one of the three nurses we see on stage and is a truly captivating performer - each story that she told was told with such care, such respect and with such powerful emotiveness. Blackwood is a serious talent!
Joining Blackwood on stage are Alasdair Linn and Stella Saltibus and each match Blackwood in their conviction, passion for the story and complete respect to those whose words they are sharing. This is easily one of the strongest ensembles I’ve seen at the fringe and it is a pleasure to watch all three in action.
John Livesey directs and he has done a remarkable job in breathing such life into this script - and in a Verbatim show, I find that is not always true of the directorial decisions. But Livesey has given such beautiful consideration to every lighting effect, every chair movement, and has clearly worked closely with the cast to extract excellent performances that remain realistic and true.
Tending starts by asking people how they came into the job, what drew them to it. It continues to share the words of nurses in the NHS of good times and bad and finds a beautiful balance between reminding us of the joys and triumphs of this job, and of the hardships and heartbreaks of it too. When Covid hits though, all bets are off. This work would have been triumphant even if written before the pandemic, but that half way through it moves to show us the shift in the industry as it was known, and in what was expected as you cared for your patients, is enormous to watch and extremely powerful.
I highly recommend taking tissues to this one - I challenge the individual who can stay dry eyed through this piece…I certainly couldn’t.
Tending is a love letter and a thank you note to all those in scrubs that save us, sometimes at the cost of losing themselves. It is the most powerful tribute an artist can give and if this is the sort of Verbatim theatre that El Blackwood can create, then this is a playwright that I will be keeping a very close look out for in the future!
It is not unique to the UK that nurses are overworked and under-compensated for that work, needed and yet not adequately valued. I think that this is must see theatre as a reminder of how much nurses do for their patients. It's about more than just caring for one's health, it's about caring for their humanity too.