Printable CopyTHE DOCTOR
The Adelaide Festival
Dunstan Playhouse
Until 08 Mar 2020

Review by Fran Edwards

The original play by Arthur Schnitzler from 1912 has been updated by Robert Icke to reflect the conflicts of conscience faced by anyone in modern day society. Icke has substituted Dr Ruth Wolff for Professor Bernhardt but – as his script demonstrates – these difficulties face all and we are all guilty of judging people on race, colour, sex or creed when our personal world is challenged.

The major character, Dr Wolff, is superbly played by Juliet Stevenson. Wolff appears a reasonable, intelligent, articulate individual who as a senior doctor understands her duty to her patients and is conversant with the rules of the hospital, she works in. Initially the dilemma is caused by a failed abortion. The imminent death of the fourteen-year-old girl is not her fault, but the arrival of a Catholic priest triggers a chain of actions which will unravel Wolff’s life.

Acting in a person’s “best interests” is always a minefield requiring a firm knowledge of what is right from their point of view as well as your own, and medical best interest is not always compatible with other areas. So many choices containing ethical dilemmas.

The cast of this production is uniformly good. Some creative casting forces the audience to re-evaluate the way they look at each person because the colour of their skin nor the gender you believe them to be should stop you seeing each as a person. This evaluation led to peeling off the layers of inbred bias and inherent prejudice. Unlike the doctor in the original, Dr Wolff is subject to much wider condemnation as the modern world has the internet.

The staging was simple: a room that looked like a conference room with several entrances and a large table which rotated surreptitiously to show all angles of the debates. This also doubled as Wolff’s home with subtle lighting changes by Natasha Chivers making it seem smaller and more intimate. The use of drums, played by Hannah Ledwidge, was clever creating an ongoing sound scape which continued throughout the interval, almost like a heartbeat.

Directed by Robert Icke, the skillful use of the tension between the players held the audience interest. Wolff’s partner, Charlie, who we suspect was dead before this began, is played by Joy Richardson, but with no use of pronouns this character could be male or female, dark skinned or not. It doesn’t matter; deliberately ambiguous as were several other characters.

This is a stunning piece of theatre that will make you think and question your own beliefs and motives. Don’t miss the chance to see this very different piece.