Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Doctor's Dilemma

To the National to see a revival of George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma directed by Nadia Fell, who came through Trevor's MA Directing programme, when it ran at Goldsmiths. Having assisted Nick Hytner on a couple of shows, this is her first main house production. Andy Brunskill, who graduated from Drama St Mary's a couple of years ago, assists.

Eminent Harley Street physician, Sir Colenso Ridgeon, recently knighted for his pioneering work on discovering a tuberculosis cure, is faced with a dilemma. He has only secured funding for a finite number of patients. The arrival on the scene of the beautiful Jennifer Dubedat, begging help for her consumptive husband, the talented but wayward, Louis, takes him over the quota. Who to the save? The self-indulgent but brilliant artist or a mediocre, but good hearted, colleague.

It's a tough play to make your debut with. Shaw's characters nearly always demonstrate their attitudes rather than reveal them in a Stanislavskian way. There's a thin line to tread between creating a psychologically coherent universe, in which we empathise directly with the play's problems, and revelling in the satiric parody. Nadia's production works through this problem brilliantly, by creating a mini chorus from the Doctors, played with relish by David Calder, Malcolm Sinclair, Robert Portal and Paul Herzberg; who, in their clucking and preening, become a curious menagerie of vanities and opinions.

This frees the audience to focus on the actions of the three central characters, each of whom, in their own way, behave with moral ambiguity. Tom Burke, is particularly strong, as the insouciant Louis.

Much has been made of the play's contemporary relevance, where matters of life and death are subject to the vagaries of funding and the prioritisation of administrators, but I saw the work as a reminder of how dangerous it is when health care is privatised in the hands of a gentrified minority, who are happy to speculate on the future of their patients over a long lunch, playing God between the main course and desert.

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