Guest Blog: About Nosocoimal by Nicola Baldwin

In our latest blog, Nicola Baldwin (one of the creators behind Nosocomial) gives an insight into the early stages of making the show, visiting the labs in Great Ormond Street Hospital and how the ideas are being brought to life. 

Nosocomial runs Thursday 20 – Saturday 22 September, featured in Camden Underground, our festival of subterranean delights. Book tickets here. 

I met Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green while researching another play. It says a lot about Elaine that as Lead Healthcare Scientist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Clinical Lecturer at UCL (plus numerous other roles and responsibilities) she turned up as a member of the public to take part in a workshop run by Theatre of Debate about antimicrobial resistance. Elaine is deeply fascinated by viruses and bugs, and keen to promote healthcare science. After meeting her I visited her lab at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Here I became hideously obsessed by viruses and bugs, and fascinated by healthcare scientists.

Basically, everything you think of as medicine is done by scientists. If you are reading this and are not an NHS healthcare scientist (biomedical scientist, clinical scientist, audiologist, clinical engineer or one of the 50 plus NHS science specialisms) you won’t know that. Popular drama has a lot to answer for here. But I think it goes much deeper.

The Society for Applied Microbiology – who funded this R&D project (thanks SfAM!) – tweeted a quote from American science writer Mary Roach; “We are biology. We are reminded of this at the beginning and the end, at birth and at death. In between, we do what we can to forget.” As a playwright, I live and work in the theatre of forgetting, with sidelong, terrified glances toward the entrance and exit, like in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, truly “… a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”

What began as a conversation between Elaine and myself grew to include other healthcare scientists (biomedical scientists, clinical engineers etc), doctors, nurses and medical researchers; later other artists and actors. And wine. Also food, honesty, and over time, trust.

We met once a month on the terrace of the roof garden at GOSH and what you will see if you come to watch a performance of Nosocomial is the result of that. Or rather, our early findings. We’re not done yet.

I’m really pleased Nosocomial is starting life at Camden People’s Theatre, a home of unconventional theatre. Because Nosocomial is an experiment, or series of experiments in which one element was added to another to create a reaction.

The Healthcare Scientists are really pleased that the show is taking place in the basement, as it reflects that many of their labs are underground, often between the morgue and storage rooms for Ebola kits and other paraphernalia required for emergency work abroad.

So many remarkable, mind-bending, heart-breaking, jaw-dropping stories came out of these workshops. I can’t start on them now or we will be here all night. Some of them are in the play. But I also think Nosocomial is as much about the act of telling, of sharing experience, communication between people in a room.

This is a work in progress. Actors will mostly carry scripts, staging is simple. Nosocomial is evolving into a theatre play, but bears witness to its origins of people talking in a room.

If you want to see how our show was made, our collaboration diagram looks like this so far: