Playwright and Director Robert Icke’s The Doctor is a reimagining of Viennese dramatist Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play Professor Bernhardi. Premiering at the Almeida Theatre in 2019, The Doctor received critical praise and won a 2019 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award and had nominations in both the Olivier Awards and the Evening Standard Awards. The play then headlined the Adelaide Festival in 2020 and was due in the West End shortly afterwards. Having been postponed due to the pandemic, The Doctor now plays at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre.
The Doctor follows Professor. Ruth Wolff, who refuses to let a Catholic priest into the operating room where a girl is dying from a botched self-administered abortion. After a recording of the physical altercation with the priest goes viral on the internet, Ruth begins to receive severe backlash from some of the hospital staff, the girl’s father, a network of social media users and a TV panel of social activist groups. Effectively being “cancelled”, Ruth’s ideas of labels, identity and being human are challenged as society starts to take sides.
In this production, Robert Icke directs Juliet Stevenson (Mary Stuart, Hamlet, Duet for One) as Ruth Wolff, Christopher Osikanlu Colquhoun (The Lion King) as Copley, Mariah Louca (Best Of Enemies) as Rebecca, Daniel Rabin (King Lear) as Murphy, Naomi Wirthner (An Evening At The Talkhouse) as Hardiman, Doña Croll (The Heresy of Love) as Cyprian, Juliet Garricks (100 Paintings) as Charlie, Preeya Kalidas (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) as Flint, John Mackay (Oresteia) as Father, Matilda Tucker (The Snow Queen) as Sami and Sabrina Wu making her professional debut as Junior. They are accompanied by Hannah Ledwidge on drums providing scene punctuation and pacing.
Robert Icke’s script provides beautifully flawed and layered characters for the actors to really sink their teeth into and each does an excellent job in bringing The Doctor to life. Not leaving the stage throughout, Juliet Stevenson is utterly captivating as Ruth Wolff. Beginning as a confident, renowned doctor she stands by her doctor’s code and slowly comes to understand her own humanity and humanity around her as her world unravels. Stevenson gives a powerhouse performance securing her place once again as one of the best modern theatre actors of our time. Doña Croll is also very affecting in her portrayal of the privileged male character Cyprian. Often abusing his position of power, Cyprian supports Ruth until he is no longer able to. Croll’s male physicality and emotional journey was unsettling and engrossing. Christopher Osikanlu Colquhoun’s Copley was the frequent devils advocate while Naomi Wirthner’s Hardiman seemed the voice of reason. As the play progresses, we learn more about Ruth through Juliet Garricks’ Charlie. Often the only calm entity in Ruth’s life, Garricks performance was was extremely touching. As Father, John Mackay gives a compelling performance playing dual roles as two very difference fathers accumulating in a final scene with Ruth that was extremely raw and emotional.
One of the many brilliant devices used by director Robert Icke was the choice to use non-traditional casting. Black actors play white characters, women play men and some aren’t identified at all leaving it up to the audiences interpretation. As we learn more about the characters, The Doctor challenges the audiences biases not only in terms of the material itself but also with the actors playing the characters. This technique was brilliantly displayed at the top of the second act when the audience was sat in front of a panel of social activist groups asking Ruth the hard questions, intellectually challenging her and the audience itself which was very stirring.
Delving into themes of social politics, identity, race, privilege, religion, mental health and sexuality, The Doctor is a powerful and needed piece of modern theatre. With tickets starting at just £15 and 3800 stalls tickets specially priced for NHS employees and blue light workers, make sure to get tickets and see The Doctor while it plays the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Reviewed by Stuart James