Stevenson Steals The Show In Icke’s The Doctor

The Doctor, Almeida Theatre ★★★★☆

Stevenson Steals The Show In Icke’s The Doctor The Doctor, Almeida Theatre 4
Photo: Manuel Harlan

What relevance does an early-20th century Austrian play have to our current climate? How can social media weave its way into a drama that was written over a hundred years ago?

Based on 1912 drama Professor Bernhardi, by Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler, The Doctor is a contemporary take on what was a highly controversial play at the time. Robert Icke triumphs with his interpretation, which follows the events at the Elizabeth Institute, a private medical unit run by Professor Wolff.  She refuses to let a catholic priest see a dying 14 year old girl, who is on her death bed due to the resulting sepsis from a self-administered abortion.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

The incredible Juliet Stevenson stars as the formidable, stern, yet troubled Professor Ruth Wolff and Icke proves, in his signature slick style, that even in 2019 some questions remain unanswered.

Within the first 20 minutes, the friction between religion and science, faith and medicine, rears its ugly head, lingering until the end of the play. Questions of identity are at the heart of the near three-hour drama:  white actors state they are black, male characters are played by women, and the issue of religion trickles in. The audience are immediately left questioning their own prejudices, about gender, race, religion and identity, and just who is included in these ‘groups’.  Jewish Professor Wolff emphasises, however, in a ‘crystal clear’ manner, that she is a doctor, refusing to be grouped or identified by any other trait.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

The minimalist, almost clinical set and costumes are rather bleak, reflecting the black and white mentality of many of the characters, as well as the austere state of the health service. Timely, laugh-worthy comments about the NHS are slid in frequently, just to remind the audience of issues such as the exploitation of junior doctors and lack of NHS funding, that hit the headlines all too often.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Stevenson is brilliant as Ruth Wolff (known by her colleagues as the Big Bad Wolff), her cold manner and chilling personality slowly showing itself as becoming more human towards the end of the production, leaving no doubt as to Stevenson’s complete absorption of her character, and her talent. The Doctor is Icke’s final production at The Almeida, and he is certainly going out with a bang.

The Doctor, Almeida Theatre, Islington, N1 1TA. Tickets from £10, until 28 September 2019.

Last Updated 21 August 2019