Performing Arts: The Consulting RoomBMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7203.199a (Published 17 July 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:199
The Royal London Hospital, 9, 10, 11 July
For the past 10 weeks, patients at the Royal London Hospital have been persuaded to take part in an ambitious arts project presented by the IOU theatre. While perhaps not kicking off their shoes and dancing, both staff and patients have participated in singing workshops and interviews conducted by the members of the theatre in an attempt to explore notions of illness. The resulting presentation, named “The Consulting Room,” incorporates these interviews into a 40 minute show and is the third in a series that will culminate at next year's Greenwich and Docklands international festival in a major show entitled “Cure.”
When we enter the theatre, an area set up in the gardens at the centre of the hospital, a carbolic-soaped nurse—the model of professional efficiency—asks each of us for our name and directs us to a seat, telling us that “The doctor will see you shortly.” Perched on white benches, we watch as names are called out one by one and our neighbours stand up and are led away Some disappear completely, but others are led into strange machines that capitalise on the public's persistent belief that medicine is magic. The contraption resembling a mis-marriage of washing machine and motorised umbrella looks as terrifying to the medically trained eye as most of the medical equipment in daily use looks to patients.
Drip bags filled with horrifying liquids are handed out, and we are cheerfully asked to place the bags next to our ears as the speakers inside begin to broadcast the recorded interviews with patients talking about their illness and planning their recovery. Our names, meticulously noted down on our entry, are then called out, and we are given a surgical mask and led out of the theatre and across the courtyard into another set. Queen Alexandra, set in stone above us, stares disapprovingly as we are herded through plastic sheeted corridors. Climbing the stairs that lead up to the roof of a shed inside the second theatre, we stand back as the top lifts off to reveal a patient in bed. Nurses scuttle around and tidy pillows as the patient levitates off the bed and performs a deliberately rambling monologue about his life.
The whole theatre piece is clinically surreal: while feeling uncomfortable at stepping into other people's lives, your conscience vies with an equally natural sense of curiosity. As we leave The Consulting Room, we are given our “notes,” a booklet of medical thoughts compiled by Lou Glandfield, a founder member of the IOU theatre. Inside is a quote by Voltaire: “The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while Nature cures the disease.”
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