Michael McKinney reviews Adam Kay’s “This is Going to Hurt”

The private and professional lives of doctors appears to have provided constant fascination for people and has been explored many ways throughout the centuries. From Dr Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame to House M.D. to the beleaguered hospital staff witnessed on 24 Hours in A & E, it seems that audiences cannot get enough of shows about medical professionals, both real and imagined.

Still, it is a rare work indeed that so elegantly, and honestly, portrays the life of an NHS doctor. Adam Kay, through a combination of uncomfortable truths, gallows humour, bone dry wit and genuine warmth, provides an intimate insight into this world.

Kay’s show This is Going to Hurt, brings this world vividly to life, replete with memorable diary readings demonstrating Kay’s deadpan, self-deprecating, humour.

Dr Finlay’s Casebook


In contrast to the somewhat gentle pace of the show, much of the humour is derived from Kay’s own misdemeanours, professional misunderstandings and, of course, foolhardy patients, a memorable ‘de-gloving incident’ springs to mind.

The readings, and occasional monologue, are interspersed with charming musical numbers, much in the vein of Tom Lehrer or Tim Minchin. During these pieces, Kay gleefully recites much of the baffling number of medicines and horrific symptoms that doctors have to memorise, much to his own amusement.

Despite the show’s introduction being quite varied, its crucial message is never lost. Kay continually reminds the audience of the trials of being a doctor: the sacrifices, impossible choices, tiny triumphs and crushing disasters. Each of these issues is hidden behind a veil of macabre comedy, one of the milder examples being:

“It’s an established fact that death rates go up on ‘Black  Wednesday.’ Knowing this takes the pressure off, so I’m not trying very hard”.


As the show progresses, one comes to realise that this gallows comedy is a coping method. Once this is realised a strong feeling of empathy begins to develop. How else could you cope being surrounded by the sick, the desperate and the dying every day?

The answer, of course, is to try and find humour in the tragedy, the light in the darkness.

Although the humour is dry and often pitch-black, it is never cruel. Each of those mentioned by Kay are offered to the audience as human beings, never one-dimensional characters to be mocked. The anecdotes within the show, and indeed Adam Kay’s book, are more than silly stories about the bizarre goings-on within NHS hospital.


They, and the entire show, proudly bear the central theme of this performance, humanity. Specifically that doctors, and indeed all medial staff are ordinary humans doing extraordinary things.

All throughout this theme, this shines through. It is made clear that doctors, nurses and paramedics are human beings, trying to do the best that they possibly can, given the difficult, sometimes impossible circumstances.

Thus, the show is brought to a moving climax. Kay, for a scant few minutes, removes his comic mask and shows us the wounded doctor underneath. The gallows humour falls away and is replaced with something brutal and truly heart-breaking.


Kay gives a passionate monologue, describing the purpose of his tour. Showing the casual callousness of the government towards junior doctors, the burdens held by our National Health Service and the tireless work of those who fight to save and protect human life every day.

The final message of the night is this; care for our carers. They, although they do extraordinary things every day, are little different than any other member of our society. Help them, speak to them and support both them and the NHS as if your life depends upon it.

Because someday, it will.

‘Adam Kay: This is Going to Hurt’ will be playing in the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End from the 1st July 2019. More info here: seatplan.com/london/adam-kay-this-is-going-to-hurt/

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