Adelaide Festival

Festival Review: The Doctor

The story so magically brought to life by this company of vibrant, and versatile, actors twists the world on its ear, black is white, gender is fluid, power is wielded with dire consequences


Presented by Adelaide Festival – Almeida Theatre
Reviewed 28 February 2020

(From the programme) doctor (noun) one who mends or repairs; in popular current use, applied to any medical practitioner.

also: a traditional healer or diviner.

doctor (verb) to treat so as to alter the appearance or character of; to falsify, tamper with, disguise.

Every once in a while, you attend a theatre and the world goes away for a little while as you are swept up in a story that captures your attention, makes you question your judgement and throws the world into a washing machine of ideas that spin out of control from a simple act. I just spent a little under three hours in my seat and realised just before the play ended that I had not consciously moved for the duration of this riveting piece of drama brought to life by this extraordinary bunch of British actors. And that included interval. If you see it, you’ll know why.

The story so magically brought to life by this company of vibrant, and versatile, actors twists the world on its ear, black is white, gender is fluid, power is wielded with dire consequences and at the centre of all this action Juliet Stevenson reaches character highs and lows that are breathtakingly accurate, acutely painful, and blind to the consequences of sticking to your guns even if you are right! This woman is one of the great actors of our time and in this piece, she demonstrates an intuitive understanding of the depths of a human being in crisis and the effects of devastating circumstances on the human heart and mind.

To single Stevenson out for the portrayal of the character she so convincingly embodies is hardly fair, though truly deserved, as the cast that surrounds her give her the platform and drive to allow her character to shine. I want to mention everyone by name and explore the effect of their work on the story but then my review would never get printed, and I would be telling you the story that you should witness for yourselves. It is one not to be missed. The ethical arguments, the religious ambiguities, the racial politics, the familial loyalties, the work place agendas that are present in everyday life are amplified and used to great advantage as each of the characters on stage pose questions and raise ethical dilemmas that sear into the life of Doctor Wolff with devastating consequences.

There are so many questions raised by this insightful and very topical piece of work; who would have thought it was loosely based on a play written in 1912, Professor Berhardi by Arthur Schnitzler. Another question that is raised here, is how much have we learned as we have progressed through life on this planet for over a hundred years? It’s a question I am still pondering as I write this, and I don’t know the answer, and doubt I ever will

The simple but effective staging, designed by Hildegard Betcher, provides a constantly moving and changing playground for this drama to unfold on. Stainless steel and wood on a revolve that at times moves unsettlingly slowly and underpins the discomfort of the situation, The semi circular wall of wood, with double doors centre back that effortlessly glide open and shut enhance dramatic effect, with a door down stage on both sides which gives the feeling of endless hospital corridors beyond, and the steely light of a hospital is provided by a bank of neon lights in the grid and the subtle lighting changes Natasha Chivers uses enhance and compliment the dramatic flow of the piece with unnoticed ease (yes that’s a compliment) and take us from Hospital. to home. to television studio. One can’t leave out of this review the live drum work from Hannah Ledwidge that accompanies this work. It drives, underpins and disturbs every moment it is used for. Sometimes subtle, sometimes strident but always present like a constantly murmuring voice. That along with Tom Gibbons’ sound composition and Hannah Ledwidge’s additional compositions were a great asset to the atmosphere of the play.

I think Robert Icke is a bit of a genius and knows just how to cast a play, frame a conundrum and exacerbate an argument that leaves you wondering just where you stand in the world this drama creates. Thanks Mr Icke, job well done. You have sent a full theatre home to process the arguments, the problems and the ethics of a world on the cusp of change.

Review by Adrian Barnes

Rating out of 5:  5 Devastatingly wonderful theatre.

Venue:  Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre        

Season:  Sat 29 Feb, 2:00pm, 7:00pm Sun 01 Mar, 2:00pm Tue 03 Mar, 6:00pm Wed 04 Mar, 6:00pm Thu 05 Mar, 11:30am, 6:00pm Fri 06 Mar, 7:00pm Sat 07 Mar, 1:00pm, 6:00pm Sun 08 Mar, 4:00pm  

Duration: 2 hr 45 mins, including interval

Tickets:          A Reserve
$129, Friends $110, Conc $103, U30 $65, Student $55

B Reserve
$109, Friends $93, Conc $87, U30 $55, Student $45

 Transactions fees apply.


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