Nursing has always been a profession of paradoxes. To be a nurse, you have to be prepared to consistently present as stoic and strong, smiling and positive, even when you are feeling at your most vulnerable, and heart heavy, as you deal with frightened people who are fragile in their suffering.
Division One Registered Nurse and soul diva, Zuleika Khan, has obviously written her Adelaide Cabaret Fringe show, Triage! – A Nursing Cabaret, with a high level of insider knowledge after fifteen years’ experience in this surreal disinfected world of pain – and love.
Born into a medical family – the family living room served as her father’s patients’ waiting room, and her mother was often on shift in one hospital or another – has ensured that Khan has a lifetime of stories upon which to draw.
Khan begins her show dressed as a World War I matron, a la Florence Nightingale, singing a bluesy number detailing some of the historically appalling conditions that nurses have had to endure. This opening number flags what appears to be a sensible and engaging chronological approach to the subject. The domineering approach of her first character provides room for plenty of black humour to be aired as she verbally conjures up the confronting life of a triage nurse in wartime.
A clever reworking of George Michael’s hit, Faith, went over well, even with some of the more visceral descriptions of a typical day’s work being detailed in the lyrics.
The graphic, matter of fact, reportage of injuries, infections and despair in this opening sequence was cleverly and poignantly balanced by a tender image of this battle hardened old battle-axe undertaking a bedside vigil, sitting beside a dying soldier and singing Dream A Little Dream Of Me to him to ease his suffering just a little.
A quick costume change then took us on a quantum leap through time, albeit briefly, into the 1960’s, where uniforms had taken on a more Jean Shrimpton-esque form.
Khan’s hilarious rewrite of the old Betty Everett hit, The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), took the potential saliva reference out of the song’s title and replaced it with a more direct name for another bodily fluid that can be sent down in a flask to pathology for close analysis. It was the highlight of the show.
In fact, up to this point, the show had proven to be a clear success, but strangely, Khan then chose to undertake a deliberate momentum shift, changing the narrative form from it being a general overview of the history of nursing, where her insider knowledge gave the material a sharp resonance, to a directly personal account of her own life and experience which only just managed to escape descending into self-indulgence.
This latter section of the show simply misread the audience’s needs. Khan found herself preaching to the converted – a cross-section of medical professionals who had been, up until this point, enjoying the recognition factor in the way the show presented serious situations in a blackly comic way. Nobody needed convincing that nurses are arguably the most invisibly heroic sub-group in our community, but Khan chose to hammer this point a little too heavily. Her forced attempts to engage some audience involvement were also awkward and tended to strip the show of its appealing earlier pace and atmosphere.
Some of the earlier vibe was restored towards the conclusion of the evening when she returned to her original ‘tool’ kit and pulled out a rollicking version of I’ve Been Everywhere which detailed her wide experience in medically servicing an array of men’s appendages – including one that had come off second best in an encounter with a box of popping candy…
Triage! – A Nursing Cabaret contains some terrific material but suffers a little from its uneven structure and approach. Khan certainly has a strong voice, a clear sense of passion and a wicked sense of humour though.
This show is definitely with examining.
Triage! – A Nursing Cabaret is being performed at the Nexus Arts Venue, cnr. Morphett Street & North Terrace, Adelaide at 6:00 pm.
Tickets here: http://www.cabaretfringefestival.com