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27 May, 2021

Review: Grace Under Pressure

I will declare up front, I thought I had an understanding of the health industry. Being married to a nurse, I guess I thought I understood what the job was about.

By Peter McCullagh

Sal Sharah Photography by Alex Sibbison

Grace Under Pressure opened my eyes and really turned my view of the health reality on its head.

This is a deeply moving monologue style production. There’s four performers, each bringing to life the narrations of eighteen health professionals.

The professional and personal layers are peeled back to reveal funny, disturbing, challenging and in some cases personally confronting experiences of the health professionals who contributed to make this production.

Written by David Williams and Paul Dwyer, who researched and conducted hours of in-depth interviews with doctors and nurses about their experiences of training and working within the health service.

For the performers they are not acting a character from a script, they are delivering accurate testimonials recorded from the hours of interviews conducted in research by Williams and Dyer.

The excitement of driving an ambulance fast with the sirens blaring, or performing their first ever CPR through to the confronting stories of workplace bullying and harassment. The emotional journey ends for the audience with the harrowing and deeply moving recount of a mother taking her last breaths at 2am in the morning and passing away leaving the nurses (her daughters) to wash and lay the body out.

This is no sugar coating or stereotyping of the health care industry. These are true stories, narrated without embellishment and characterisation, a total ‘warts-and-all’ journey for the audience.

Tanya Schneider Photography by Alex Sibbison

In the medical industry they talk about the “patient’s journey”, Grace Under Pressure allows the audience to take a journey of enlightenment. A journey of discovery and a realisation that this essential industry, this industry built upon compassion and care for patients can emotionally and physically stretch and distort its care givers.

For me it was compelling theatre, an intimate insight into what it is like behind the scenes.

The production was subtle, the narration was the focus. A gentle audio barely noticeable soundscape folded around the theatre, never intruding but underpinning the stories we were hearing.

The set was stark, with a circular lighting frame directly above the stage, set at an angle and reminiscent of an operating theatre light, shining deeply into the story and allowing us to see and hear with clarity some of the raw and very troubling stories.

Tanya Schneider, Meg Dunn, Emily Taylor, Sal Sharah

Please do not think this is a dark production. The stories are real, the emotion that bubbles inside you as you watch is real. The humour was genuine, and around me I could pick the nurses in the audience, they responded as if it were their stories being told.

Unfortunately, Grace Under Pressure was for one night only in Cairns, if you attended you were like me, witnesses to a delicate and challenging true-to-life depiction and revelation as to the struggles of health care professionals. If you missed it, you missed a memorable and very moving performance. 

Emily Taylor Photography by Alex Sibbison

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