Jabs at Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, reviewed by John Hargreaves
As JABS began, Sally Tonge joked that there was a long period when no Englishman, Scotsman, or Irishman walked into a bar. Neither did she. With her vocation as a folksinger reduced to strumming alone in front of a computer, she volunteered for training as a Covid 19 vaccinator. Over a thousand jabs duly delivered, she shared some of the comic – and intense – moments with playwright Chris Eldon Lee, who said he didn’t so much write JABS as write it down.
Timing being the secret of success in comedy and vaccination programmes alike, there must have been some nervousness about whether audiences, overwhelmingly double-jabbed, would turn up for an evening’s entertainment about jabs – and if they did, whether they would laugh. Now the team can relax. The answer is a big yes on both counts.
Sally is our presenter. Her account of her own experience of training and then operating as an NHS vaccinator, alongside a series of phone conversations with her long-distance truck-driving partner, provided a narrative arc for the entertainment. She delivered this with confidence and kindness – never more so than when pulling members of the audience on stage for a demonstration – just as we would expect from an ace vaccinator.
She also made up for lost time as a folksinger, incorporating snippets from a range of popular songs that encouraged audience participation, alongside new numbers written collaboratively with her colleagues.
The laugh-out-loud humour comes from the host of characters making their way — eagerly, gratefully, tensely, suspiciously, and often in deep ignorance – through the vaccination pod centre stage. There were the fearful and the fainters. There were shirts that wouldn’t roll up, tattoos weird and wonderful, flesh that quivered. There was the man who knew his NHS number by heart — “999”; the woman half way through a 10k who stopped off with her running club; the deep-cleansing obsessive not satisfied with sterile wipes. “If alcohol kills the virus, why have they closed the pubs?”
Pin-sharp characterisations in short order were given by Paul Wilkinson playing all the male recipients and Christina Cubbin the female. Each jab may contain only three millilitres of fluid and take three seconds to administer but in receipt of them these two actors created a series of rich and very funny tableaux.
Jabs does have its poignant moments that recognise the truly painful dimension of the Covid pandemic. It acknowledges the existence of anti-vaxxers and some of their concerns. And it is shot through with respect and gratitude for the NHS. Credit goes to the actors and entire creative team for doing all this with such benevolence and generosity. They gave us a relatively new opportunity to process and reflect on a profound experience in a social gathering. And have a good laugh too.
JABS has been created by Love Lee Productions
Visit their Facebook Page to find out where you can watch it!