Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

Do you know what’s in the drugs your doctor prescribes you? Do you ask for a ‘Patient Information Leaflet’? What are your rights in this space? Cruise to Hell, written and performed by Millie Kieve, will open your eyes. This is a true story of Kieve’s family, and it is not one for the faint-hearted. It is brought to stage by Eastend Theatre Company, and in this cast, fact truly is stranger than fiction.

The story opens with a regular Jewish business family living from England. The couple have three sons, and a daughter Karen. Karen starts to feel unwell in her late teens and is put on some medication to help with her health. What follows are years and years of visits to the doctor and the psychiatrist, as Karen’s health goes through good times and bad. The family rally around her, as families do, to provide support and help her through the bad times. Whilst on the surface they do everything by the book, they do not realise what is really at play. Severe side-effects plague Karen as a fallout of the cocktail of drugs that she is prescribed, mixing up with her actual symptoms. To the observer, mainly her mother, it is impossible to distinguish between the symptoms of her ill health and the side-effects of her drugs.

This is all happening in the UK about 20 years ago, and the concerns that are raised by the patient and her family largely fall on deaf ears of health professionals. In a number of cases, doctors and nurses freely admit that they are unaware of certain side-effects. Pharmacies do not hand out information all the time either, and over the span of a decade, Karen suffers. Kieve owns and runs a charity (APRIL) which seeks to educate about the effects of drugs and to also campaign for reforms in the pharmaceutical industry. This is a very unique production about a topic that most people will be unaware of; that it is born of personal experience means that it is amateur theatre, but that is less relevant, since it is more about the education rather than the art. Truly eye-opening!