Friday, 3 April 2015


Nurse is a short series by Paul Whitehouse, a dark comedy with Esther Coles as a community mental health nurse, visiting a range of her patients (mostly played by Whitehouse). I was both intrigued and worried by this, knowing that Whitehouse is a talented character actor, that he can define different characters well; but also that making fun of mental health issues is an easy target, and not actually that funny.

What really struck me early on was that there was an interesting interplay between Nurse Liz and her patients - in some ways, her patients are more together than she is, to an extent because she has to pretend to be OK, whereas her patients don't have to. The question that it asks me again and again is Who is the one with problems? The answer is everyone, the nurse, the patients, those people like Lorrie's neighbour Maurice who is not one of Liz's patients, but maybe he should be.

What was interesting was that there was humour in the series - and it was not making fun of those who were ill. It was sometimes seeing the humour in their situations, and often the target was nurse Liz herself. Ray the forgotten rock star, who talks about all of his past glories, to put off the moment when he needs an injection in his behind, is funny and poignant. There is something of Les McQueen from The League of Gentlemen, but more nuanced, less cynical. Graham is hugely overweight, but the jokes are not AT his weight problem, but as much at those (like his mother) who pamper to his food desires. If anyone is the butt of jokes in these sketches, it is his mother, not Graham himself.

There was a sense in some of the storylines, of progress, development, a sense that there was progress happening. In the final episode this week, some of these were resolved - in various ways. Graham got out of bed and walked a little - no miracles, but important progress. Ray had nothing to say in his last meeting, his silent depression a reflection of him acknowledging his problems. And yet there is the Alzheimer's sufferer who is really no better at the end than at the beginning - her son, who is Liz's actual patient, may have had enough.

As a whole, I think the series was very sensitive to those with mental health problems. It was funny, in a rather dark way, and I would put a trigger warning on it for those with mental health issues. Not everyone would find it funny, some would consider it offensive. I am not dismissing these views, all I am saying is that for me, it was insightful. Rather than laughing at at people with mental health problems, the series as a whole did identify some of the issues that they face, some of the challenges that mental health problems cause for individuals. For me, Ray - that chatty, outgoing star who ends up unable to say anything, was perfect, and someone who (in some ways) I relate to. That is the reality for many - including myself - of depression.

So, despite some reservations, I think Paul Whitehouse has done something very good, very positive. Well done.

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