Everyone has a story to tell about the NHS. Terrible food, waiting lists, infections, inefficiency and complaints. But alongside every scare is an unheard story of compassion and kindness. What are the stories from the caring face of the health service? Meet a high-dependency nurse, overworked, overstretched, undervalued … the beating heart of your NHS. Written & directed by Sam Freeman, here he speaks to Chris High about what lay behind the concept.
What was it that inspired you to write Floating?
I have a good friend who works for the NHS as a high dependency nurse and she was telling me about her work life. It was a daily experience of people on the verge between life and death, where people cling to survival aided by a huge team of medical staff, providing constant care with the inevitable emotional highs and lows. However the thing that stood out was how people react to this care, as patients and family, how we treat our carer’s in times of stress, and of course why someone would be a nurse.
And directing your sister in her first One Woman play must have been challenging?
Directing my sister in her first one-woman play sounds difficult in theory. I guess it depends on how much trust you have in the other person’s ability and your ability to accept new ideas and be adaptable for the greater good of the piece. Susie is incredibly dedicated and has to be as it’s an hour of just her onstage and a lot of text, the dynamic actually makes it easier as we can read each other quite well. It’s been quite fun!
How difficult did you find writing from the POV of a woman?
Quite easily I think (the audience will have to judge), a lot of the text is adapted from interviews and of course it has been written in consultation with nurses as well as Susie who has been a good barometer for the pieces realism but also for ensuring the occasional “Sam” phrase is effectively eliminated.
Do you or Susannah or any of your families have any bitter / sweet experiences of hospitals?
I was in hospital as a 16 year old for several weeks and had a great experience in difficult circumstances, the scale of the operation and the care I received, for free, on the NHS was staggering.
How do you find the process of writing, how much research went into Floating and how long from starting to staging did it take?
The process of writing took 4 weeks which is very quick for me, the research period was over this time too and the interviews, I tend to write chunks and see where they fit, and then if they don’t fit the narrative or become superfluous then abandon them for something better. Plays however aren’t written on the first attempt and so we’re probably on over 20 drafts now.
What is it for you that comes first, character or plot?
I never really think about it to be honest, it could be a bit of both, the last play I wrote was character whereas this was perhaps more narrative led.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors, director or playwrights?
Good luck, it’s hard, do as much as you can, you get better from performing and seeing as much theatre, drama and comedy as possible, you’ll work long hours for no money for a long time, but it’s worth it when you see the audience reaction.
What was the biggest thing you learned about the NHS from being involved in this project?
To appreciate that the care I receive from the NHS is largely free… That’s a big deal and should be fought for.
What is the best way to have a script looked at by The Unity for future staging and what is it the theatre looks for in a script?
Floating is part of Unity’s access season where local companies can get on the stage and bring new work and experiment. Unity doesn’t fit a mould or have a particular style or type of theatre that is shown – although the stage size encourages efficiency of work – There is no real best way, I’d encourage you to get work on it’s feet, get it seen, even in an early stage, then get in touch.
What’s next for Sam Freeman?
I always have loads of bits of writing on the go but the most likely looks like storytelling type show about big brother based loosely on a friend who was on Big Brother, I’m also working on a podcast and constantly write stand-up (never perform any!) which keep me occupied.