First, Do No Harm is written by the acclaimed author and playwright, Bernardine Evaristo, whose Booker Prize Winning novel, Girl, Woman, Other, was the catalyst to her recent growth in popularity. Amongst other things, her work explores social injustice and the importance of standing up against them.
With this in mind, First, Do No Harm is a poignant piece that directly correlates to Girl, Woman, Other. Both pieces underline the prevalent social issues that the United Kingdom has faced during 2020, touching on themes such as racism and Conservative-led cuts to our public health services. Evaristo’s monologue also serves as a great celebration of our NHS and its crucial work.
First, Do No Harm is part of a series of monologues in The Greatest Wealth project. Devised by Adrian Lester and Lolita Chakrabarti, this collection of work highlights the triumphs and struggles faced by the NHS during the past, present and future. This monologue is the final addition to the series, which premiered on the 5th July 2020; this was also the 72nd anniversary of the NHS.
The themes of Evaristo’s monologue are established with a short photo montage of 2020, specifically focusing on the Coronavirus pandemic. This emotive collection of photos shows scenes such as empty London streets in lockdown, and the nurses and doctors affected by treating patients during the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result of this, the monologue is fresh and topical, with Sharon D. Clarke’s statement of “You will regret your actions here today” truly hitting home, making her audience reflect on the situation that our NHS has had to face this year.
The stage is dark and empty, with Sharon D. Clarke stood alone; she speaks directly to (in this case) an imagined audience. The simplicity and emptiness of this set was quite representative of the loneliness and confusion that many individuals have felt in during the social, medical and political turmoil of this year. To reflect this further, Sharon D. Clarke is dressed in black, appearing as though she is in mourning. Her black cloak creates an almost goddess-like figure, perhaps comparing 2020’s events to that of a Roman or Greek tragedy.
The costuming and stage creates a solemn and melancholy tone before Clarke even begins to speak. As the monologues unfolds, her tone is angry yet defiant, chronicling the pressures that society has been under.
Evaristo’s overriding message is essential, reminding everyone not to take the NHS for granted. As such, Clarke recites just a fraction of the brilliant things that doctors, nurses, and social care staff have done for British people this year. The audience is left to conclude that Clarke’s character is a nurse; she provides detailed anecdotes, such as nurses and doctors making it possible for families to speak to their loved ones on FaceTime.
Evaristo’s message will resonate with audiences across Britain, mostly due to the contemporary nature of it. She refuses to overlook the sacrifices that NHS staff make for us every day, but especially this year. Her minimal staging and costume makes her message impossible to miss.
The monologue concludes with Clarke stating that soon, “it will be too late”, which I can imagine (under normal circumstances) would haunt audiences as they left the theatre and travelled home. It truly underlines the necessity of protecting the NHS before we lose it.
Evaristo’s monologue is streaming on the Old Vic’s YouTube channel, alongside the numerous other pieces from The Greatest Wealth.
Words by Olivia Devereux-Evans.
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