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Review | The Doctor | Duke of York's Theatre | 01/12/2022

The Doctor is loosely based on a classic Arthur Schnitzler play, adapted by Robert Icke. It had a very successful pre pandemic run at the renowned Almeida, before now transferring to Duke of York’s Theatre. Whilst a 14-year-old girl clings on to the last moments of her life in a hospital bed, the Doctor (Juliet Stevenson) denies a priest entry to see her. From here decisions are held to account as things escalate to dramatic levels.

This is by no means a comfortable watch, but it is an important one in a time of cancel culture and the power of social media. Dr Ruth Wolff (Juliet Stevenson) addresses her own identities, choosing her identity as a doctor as the overarching one. Identity itself is tackled cleverly in a way where the audience are never sure of any character’s sex, religion or ethnic group until it is brought up. This is particularly powerful as it makes the audience forget any unconscious (or conscious) bias. It remains thought provoking throughout by making you challenge your own views, perspectives, biases. Above this, it tackles the ultimate tug of war between science and religion; highlighting that peoples own identities can conflict.

Juliet Stevenson, who was onstage throughout, was absolutely breath taking. I absolutely understand her Olivier nomination for this on its original Almeida run. This was the performance of a lifetime. She plays Dr Ruth Wolff (two f’s) as both sharp yet relatable. Playing a somewhat stern character, it can be difficult to give much emotion. Stevenson however manages to achieve this effortlessly with a masterclass in acting. Where this is showcased best is during a TV interview in the second act. Although the audience only see the back of Stevenson, a live feed of her face is cast onto the walls of the set. Through her facial movements, expression and tone, we feel Dr Wolff’s every emotion as her decisions, intentions and beliefs are challenged directly. This is poignant in a time where many people like to think they are politicians on Twitter. It is relatable to anyone who has ever said an innocent word which has been received in a negative or harmful way.

The Doctor is complex and engaging, it is not as simple as who is right and who is wrong. Just when you think you have a clear opinion, a seemingly unrelated perspective is given which makes you question yourself. 24 hours later I am still gathering my own standpoint on the issues raised, which shows the power of a good piece of theatre. Running at almost 3 hours with interval, the show with its single set could easily have dragged in places. However, with the power of Icke’s writing and direction the hour and half before the interval absolutely flew by in the blink of an eye. It really is edge of your seat stuff and is utterly captivating.

I was lucky enough to grab a quick chat with the wonderful Juliet Stevenson after her epic performance. I didn’t feel it right to ask her own views but was interested to hear that her viewpoint on the show changes constantly. From seeing this ground-breaking show, this is completely understandable. I would love to have the opportunity to see this again and see if my thoughts also alter. You can catch this at Duke of York's Theatre until Sunday11/12/2022. See below link for full details and booking information.


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