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Review: Mark Thomas at Liverpool Playhouse ****

After MPs expenses, Mozart and the Middle East, Mark Thomas turns to another topic that’s close to his heart – and vents his spleen with vigour in what’s a compelling and carefully-constructed monologue.

The ‘performer and provocateur’ is the son of a retired NHS midwife and was born in to the NHS in the Thames-side St Thomas’s, as he puts it “literally screaming at politicians” across the river in Parliament.

With the National Health Service having just celebrated its 70th birthday, Thomas and the NHS get a Check Up, and while the 55-year-old seems healthy enough – if somewhat overweight, as the gleeful doom-monger “Dr Ron” tells him during a comprehensive chat about ageing ailments – the NHS appears to be in need of a permanent course of stronger medicine.

Thomas is a conscientious researcher, and for Check Up he shadowed various London medical teams and GPs and conducted interviews with leaders in the medical field.

While it’s a life and death subject, as always he injects plenty of humour in to proceedings, some from his own observations and some of the gallows variety from the various medical practitioners he comes in to contact with, including a gregarious A&E consultant and a bariatric surgeon whose work is part procedural and part performance art.

The narrative rattles along – the birth of the NHS, social and class health divides, the threat of antibiotic resistance, the ongoing fallout from the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, nanobots and genomes, our nation’s shockingly bad cancer survival rates, and the human and financial cost of dementia – over 75 vividly entertaining and angrily thought-provoking minutes, punctuated by the odd spot of hand sanitiser.

Just remember, a spoonful of sugar might help the medicine go down, but it will also slowly kill you. Unless, as Dr Ron would point out with a grin, the 86 bus gets you first of course.

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