Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru may have joined the NHS seventieth anniversary celebrations late in the year but, for Bethan Marlow and Sara Lloyd, Nyrsys has been a project four years in the making. Over three years’ worth of interviews with real nurses have led to this verbatim production, which follows the trials and tribulations of five nurses on a busy cancer ward. Ninety minutes fly by as the audience laugh, cry and hum along with this lovingly crafted tribute to the National Health Service.
From the very start, Nyrsys does a great job of drawing the audience into its world. An opening musical number – one of several written by Rhys Taylor – introduces the five women and their personalities. There’s a sincerity to the characters’ relationships that doesn’t feel rehearsed, which also then feeds into their relationship to the rest of the auditorium.
Marlow could easily have written a play that went out of its way to pull on heart-strings but, smartly, she goes the other way. While mawkish moments are certainly in there, the strength of Nyrsys lies in the matter-of-fact way that subjects like cancer and death are discussed. Rather than sensationalise or force sentimentality, the creative team give the source material the respect and the honesty it deserves. Under Lloyd’s assured direction, the five performers are also exceptional. Echoing a nurse’s daily life the narrative keeps shifting tonally, and all five actors move from levity to gravity with ease. It’s those tonal shifts that really stand out in Nyrsys. This isn’t just a play about life on a cancer ward, it’s about the lives beyond it. Starts and ends of relationships, late nights out and long shifts in, personal sacrifices and private acts of kindness – just some of the themes reinforcing the fact that these selfless nurses have their own burdens to bear. Burdens they store away for what they perceive is the greater good.
Enhancing these strong performances is some equally strong design. Lucy Hall turns the stage into the mock-up of a ward, deliberately designed to allow foreground and background action. Ceri James takes full advantage of this, using ‘fluorescence’ to light the front and backlighting to cast the background in shadow. It gives the production a slightly dream-like quality, juxtaposed nicely with the seriousness of the subject matter. Barnaby Southgate’s musical direction is consistently on point, and not one of the Rhys Taylor’s songs are weakly written.