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 Islington mum speaks out about blaze that wrecked her 17th storey Old Street flat
- 2 Meet Islington's 2021 civic award winners
- 3 Islington Council urges: 'Raise repairs before Partners hands back homes'
- 4 70 firefighters tackle Old Street tower block blaze
- 5 Islington election hopeful faces trial on intimidation, cocaine and ABH charges
- 6 State-of-the-art £4m facility in pipeline for Islington Boxing Club
- 7 Man arrested after police officer hit by car in Dartmouth Park
- 8 Man wanted in connection with Kings Cross sex assault
- 9 Stephen Lawrence Day: Time for racial equality in further education
- 10 Holloway fire 'caused by unattended chip pan'
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.