The Greatest Wealth: Speedy Gonzales at the Old Vic online
The NHS is a British institution that, perhaps prior to the pandemic, many of us have been guilty of taking for granted. Until a bone is broken, a baby is born or a virus sweeps the country, we don’t quite realise how fortunate we are to have such an incredible service. Our current situation has once again highlighted the exceptional and unwavering work performed by our healthcare professionals, with “clap for carers” serving as a small gesture to convey our awe and appreciation to those who devote their lives to looking after us.
The Greatest Wealth is a series of monologues curated by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Adrian Lester to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS. Originally staged at the Old Vic in 2018, there could not be a more fitting time for these performances to resurface. Each of the eight monologues covers a different decade since the NHS was founded, with Speedy Gonzales transporting us back to the 1980s.
The sparse stage is largely absent of props and scenery, allowing all our attention to centre on language and performance. There is a natural rhythm to Chakrabarti’s writing but the dialogue is undoubtedly elevated by the amiable Art Malik. This actor has a gift for storytelling, capturing our undivided attention as he draws us in. Knowing when to permit a pause for reflection or build towards a joke affords the monologue a swift speed, which complements the hospital environment we find ourselves in. A surgeon (Malik) is running through a procedure he is soon to perform on Mrs Walker, who he jokes will have to change her name to Mrs Runner by the time he’s operated on her.
Intertwined with outlining the operation are the doctor’s digressions into his past. Arriving in the UK 26 years ago from India, he notes the many differences between medical treatment back home and in the UK as well as mulling over the progress that has been made, such as the miracle of MRI and the introduction of keyhole surgery. Through voice and movement, Malik establishes a nice contrast between the matter-of-fact, practical professional and the pensive, pondering storyteller reflecting on his life in medicine.
Mentioning how back in India some patients could afford treatment but others could not, the doctor explains that operations were never immediate because they had to be paid for first. He recounts how he had no days off and that rotas were simply not in existence before he came to the UK to find such organisation, clarity and care in our hospitals. Describing how theatre is a strange name for a place of surgery and stems from a time whereby spectators would look down on surgeons performing, Malik’s character states there’s now no audience to play to and no applause. While the virus has awakened our appreciation for healthcare workers and we are now applauding them each Thursday night, we will never be able to pay back the immense debt that we as a nation owe this wonderful service.
“The NHS is a miraculous thing when you know what life is like without it.” This is the main message of the monologue and serves as a timely and pertinent reminder of just how fortunate we are in the UK. The Greatest Wealth is essentially a love letter to the NHS. No matter what countless challenges it’s been faced with throughout the decades, it has remained resilient, reliable and consistent since its inception and we need it now more than ever.
Photo: Old Vic
The Greatest Wealth: Speedy Gonzales is available to stream from the Old Vic from 11th June until 18th June 2020. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch The Greatest Wealth: Speedy Gonzales here: