Review: The Doctor at Almeida Theatre
- Credit: Archant
Robert Icke’s Almeida swansong is a typically bold and epic updating – this time, of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 Professor Bernhardi.
The premise is the same, with a Jewish doctor refusing a priest entry to a delirious teenage patient because knowledge of her impending death could lead to a distressing end, but Icke's piece is a very modern examination of identity.
Juliet Stevenson is on blazing form as Professor Ruth Wolff, head of a private clinic researching dementia. She's intellectually brilliant, but naïve when it comes to the importance of PR, optics, handling financial donors and navigating institutional politics.
Ruth believes that medicine trumps faith, and a doctor's professional abilities are paramount, not a personal biography. But her own unconscious biases are soon interrogated.
Icke skilfully captures outrage culture, including an online petition and social media witch hunt. A TV panel debate puts Ruth on trial (and a riveting Stevenson in close-up), and perception soon overtakes whether or not she acted within medical guidelines.
You may also want to watch:
Some of the debating is dry theatrically, but Icke has a clever twist in his casting. We only realise partway through that a woman is playing a man, or a white actor a black character - and we realise, too, how much that affects our response, due to our own biases.
Those reveals eventually distract somewhat, and there's also the issue that the piece is too weighted towards Ruth - she's humanised by her home life, and her opposition (whether anti-abortion activists or 'woke' millennials) is generally either unsympathetic or, on occasion, presented comically.
- 1 'Extreme' noise complaint as 150 gather for Islington party
- 2 Statue of Philip Noel-Baker replaced in Islington after 35 years
- 3 Meet the owner of the Camden Passage shop window where nothing is for sale
- 4 Elderly woman robbed of precious watch in daylight Finsbury Park incident
- 5 New pub opens in place of The Monarch in Chalk Farm Road
- 6 New Lidl to open in Finsbury Park's Arts Building next week
- 7 'We can do better': Islington Society calls for rethink on Barnard Park plans
- 8 What do smoking and People Friendly Streets have in common?
- 9 Two men jailed for life after double murder
- 10 Islington and Camden police chief to leave Met after 29 years
But the ensemble is strong, particularly Naomi Wirthner, Paul Higgins and Ria Zmitrowicz, while Hildegard Bechtler's slowly revolving stage literally changes our point of view, and fantastic drumming from Hannah Ledwidge ramps up the tension. Another provocative offering from Icke, and Stevenson provides its memorably wounded soul.
Rating: 4/5 Stars.
Continues at Almeida Theatre until September 28. Tickets and more details here.