Theatre review - The Doctor

When a doctor, Ruth Wolff, (Juliet Stevenson), prevents a priest (Paul Higgins) from administering the last rites to her patient, a fourteen-year-old dying from sepsis after a botched self-administered abortion, she ignites a furious debate on moral and religious grounds.

Robert Icke brings Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play, Professor Bernhardi, bang up to date. His exhilarating production focuses on the ethics of medicine over faith and whether the doctor (who, coincidentally, is a non-practising Jew) was right to deny the priest entry because she did not want to distress her patient.

Professor Wolff is founder and head of the Elizabeth Institute for Dementia. After her judgment is questioned, the ramifications for her profession and the institute’s future are immense.

She finds herself betrayed at every turn. As one colleague points out, she is widely admired but not necessarily liked. Her refusal to apologise immediately impacts future funding. The doctor sticks to her morals but finds herself vilified on TV when a panel accuse her of racism and elitism. She is also lynched on social media.

Religion, ethnicity, and gender are deliberately blurred in Icke’s adaptation and this is reflected in the diverse casting. Women play men, black actors play white and vice versa. Sometimes a character’s true identity is only revealed later in the play. It’s a brilliant way to subvert our expectations and places identity politics centre stage.

Stevenson is superb. A live drummer, Hannah Ledwidge, punctuates the action. The Doctor is quite possibly the best thing you will see this year.

Almeida Theatre
Running until 28 September 2019