Writer & Performer Shey Hargreaves talks about her latest show ‘Sick’ to show at the King’s Head Theatre

Shey Hargreaves
Having celebrated 70 years last year, the NHS is one of the UK’s most crucial institutions; offering free 
medical care to residents in need. A system used by many of us, we’ve all have our own experiences of the service that have gone on to shape our opinions of it. With issues such as funding, staffing, mental health and the UK leaving the EU in late march dominating the headlines, it can be easy to forget the voices of those who work behind the scenes to make the NHS what it is today. Having worked on the frontline of the EAU (Emergency Assessment Unit) for four years, Shey Hargreaves offers an insight into how working in a high pressure role where she’d often support families going through tough experiences has ultimately helped to create her latest show, ‘Sick’, which is currently on tour.
Hi Shey! Your show ‘Sick’ will show at the King’s Head Theatre on 24th & 25th March. How are you feeling ahead of the show?
Hello! I’m really looking forward to being back at the King’s Head Theatre, it’s a brilliant venue that pulls a great audience. I always get nervous before a show but I think that does you a favour really because the adrenalin gives you that extra surge of energy. I’m finding being on tour slightly tricky because I’m leaving my wife and toddler behind this time – they used to come with me but then he learnt to talk and started heckling me from the back row so I’ve banned him from all performances. 

‘Sick’ explores ‘the impact of austerity on the National Health Service’. What was it about this topic that you wanted to explore?
I’m not interested in preaching or in pressing my political beliefs on anyone else – I just wanted to bring stories of real people being affected by policy change to a wider audience. I met so many people when I worked for the NHS whose lives were in crisis and seeing first hand how health policy was impacting on individuals had a huge effect on me. I feel that more people need to know exactly what is at stake when funding is cut and the structure of our health service comes under increasing pressure. And the stories of the patients and the staff that I knew and worked with deserve to be told.
Having worked on the frontline of the EAU (Emergency Assessment Unit) for four years, how has this shaped the show?
The show is all about my experiences over the course of those four years working on EAU, and how working there not only changed my level of understanding about how the NHS functions, but also how it changed me as a person. I started out full of beans and bright-eyed, ready to help others, blithely skipping into work every day feeling like a sort of admin-based hero. The pressure of the job, and the increasing demands placed on every one of us working on the unit, wore away at this attitude and definitely had a big impact on me as I experienced new things of the first time, helped patients and family through difficult times, came out as bi at work and grew into a young adult.
What was your writing process for creating the show?
Well, I applied for funding to develop the show when my son was three months old, and then my wife and I went off round the world with him. I kind of assumed I wouldn’t get the funding because it’s pretty hard to come by these days, and we were travelling light, in so far as this is possible with a baby. So I didn’t take a laptop or anything. Then I got an email telling me I had been awarded the funding and realised I had to write the show after all. So first I sat down with a mass of paper and wrote out every story I could remember from working on the unit, everything that had really struck a chord with me, that I had found funny or strange or frustrating or terribly sad. And I also ended up writing out stories that had happened in between shifts at work at the time, in my own personal life, which I discovered reflected what was actually going on in the health service at the time. So the show is made up of these two strands, my professional life on the unit and my personal life at home with my then partner, and the strands weave together and affect one another until it all comes to head. I then went to a library in Sydney and asked if I could use the computer to type it all up. The lady said I couldn’t have membership of the library because I didn’t have a permanent address in Sydney but she kindly allowed me one hour on the computer to do it. I think I drove everyone else in the library mad, I was typing so fast. Then we went to Japan for a bit and after that we came back to England and once we’d got past baby jetlag (no joke) I did a big edit and stripped all of the crap out of the script and boiled it down to its bare bones. I went through it with my mentor, Molly Naylor, and we did at least four more drafts until we were happy that we had a proper show, and not just the ramblings of a sleep-deprived new mum halfway round the world with no computer and no bloody library card.
As well as writing, you’ll also perform the one woman show. How do you find performing your own text?
I am happy performing my own text, I think it makes it easier to memorise if you have written it yourself. However this is the first time I have ever performed material that is from my own life, and that I find hard. Every time I perform the show, I live through it all again, and it wasn’t always easy. But it is true, and I think that makes it powerful. And the funny parts are still funny, which I think is a good sign.
What can audiences expect from the show?
Giggles, tears, straight-talking about the state of our health service and where we can expect it to go in the future if we continue on the path we’re on in terms of health policy. There’s also a free Twix at the end for one lucky audience member.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
Clarity on how health policy impacts real people; a feeling of connection with others who have suffered and are suffering; slight tummy ache from laughing; potentially a Twix.
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers/performers?
If you love it, stick with it. Eventually, everyone else will give up and go and work for an estate agent and you will be the only remaining option for funding. Thus, success!
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Sick is currently on tour, and will play on Sunday 24th and Monday 25th March 2019 at the King’s Head Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…
Written by Theatrefullstop