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The Doctor: Almeida Theatre

September 18, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 28th August 2019)

A doctor’s act of mercy sets off a string of events offering an opportunity to explore the roles of race, gender, power and religion in society today.

For Robert Icke’s last production for the Almeida, he takes a scalpel and carves the Statue of Liberty from pure ice with immaculate detail over the course of almost three hours.

A free adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s “Professor Bernhardi,” the monkey is keeping the entire review deliberately vague, as to reveal too much would spoil entirely the delight of discovery. Simply, this tackles many issues by demonstrating effortlessly how inter-related they are.

The first half sees the actors define themselves with fluidity in a mixture of race and gender assignments shifting as much as their loyalties to themselves and their beliefs.

The second act is a confrontation of those things, as resolutions are reached and the epic set-ups crumble to reveal final shapes.

Casting is immaculate, with Juliet Stevenson’s doctor creating a world so real there are sighs of sympathy for things not ever present, and even greater ones as her life is revealed. Hildergard Bechtler’s design is no more than tables and benches on a revolve, yet once populated the audience has no choice but to believe.

Fine work too from, in particular, Ria Zmitrowicz as a feisty juvenile, Mariah Louca as a manager without power, Naomi Wirthner as a neurosurgeon with race issues and Nathalie Armin as a politician with moral ones.

Playing with situations, the angles changing rapidly as the days continue, what could have become a morality piece digs far deeper into the fundamental divisions between “rational science” and today’s atmosphere of wilful mis-interpretation of sub-text / substitution of self-believe and self-serving narcissism, for consideration of the wider communal good and the normative of mainstream religion.

Even better, this is unafraid to question even the solidity of what we think of as historic bases. An admission that such things are changing in a way clear even to clergy is offered in this balanced take on our modern world.

It is quite possible that this play will prove to be very much “of its time” and even be unintelligible in a few years when our speed of life has moved on and perhaps the attitudes here have either taken hold or been forgotten. For the moment, though, it feels needle-sharp accurate and relevant to our times.

Explosive, compelling theatre.

 

5 stars, standing ovation.

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