The Doctor

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© Manuel Harlan

The Doctor by Robert Icke, adapted from Arthur Schnitzler – Almeida Theatre, London

Robert Icke’s final production for the Almeida, after spectacular successes including Mary Stuart, Andrew Scott’s Hamlet and The Wild Duck, is a complete reworking of a play by Arthur Schnitzler. He rips the original play, Professor Bernhardi, out of its turn-of-the-century Vienna setting, and drops it into the information age. Disturbingly, the central theme of anti-semitism remains seems as relevant. However, other 21st century issues have been added to the mix: specifically sexism, other forms of racism, ageism, and transgender prejudice. Icke makes a fascinating move by using complete gender-blind and racially-blind casting. This holds the play’s identity politics up to immediate question when a white actor declares himself the only black doctor in the hospital. However, there are too many issues for any one play to carry and, while, the performances and staging are exemplary, the evening seems more like an episode of The Moral Maze than a natural, inevitable drama.

Anything with Juliet Stevenson is worth watching, whatever its faults. She plays Ruth Wolff, a dementia expert at the top of her profession. She is arrogant and self-assured, unaware that her inability to relate to other people is a tragic flaw. She refuses a priest access to a dying girl and, within three days, her career is destroyed in a social media-fuelled cataclysm. She is arrogant and self-assured, unaware that her inability to relate to other people is a tragic flaw. Stevenson is brittle, fierce and vulnerable. Her mastery of emotional nuance means it is hard to take your eyes off her extraordinarily expressive face. Two performances stand out in a strong cast. Ria Zmitrowicz, who recently made her mark in the Almeida’s Three Sisters, puts in a perfect performance as Ruth’s transgender teenaged friend who she inevitably betrays. And Nathalie Armin, as calculating yet sympathetic Government minister, is excellent but under-used.

However, while the standard of performance is high it is hard to believe in Icke’s adaptation. It relies on a couple of transitional moments which are essential to the plot, but hard to credit. There are complex and current questions to be explored but, ultimately, the play needs greater focus and simplicity to make it seem like real life.

 

Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats

Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum With Expats by Sh!t Theatre – Summerhall, Edinburgh

Sh!t Theatre duo Rebecca and Louise are having a great time, serving drinks to the audience and showing photos from their trip to Malta. They’ve recreated The Pub, Valletta’s prime ex-pat drinking hole, where Oliver Reed drank himself to death. The fun starts to seem a little dark when we seen just how relentlessly Reed’s alcoholism is merchandised, with his lethal final drink order available on t-shirts with the heading ‘Legend!’ Louise and Rebecca, operating beneath the heavy disguise of their supposed amateurism, turn this odd, post-colonial, disturbingly corrupt setting into clever, sophisticated political theatre. In Malta to make a show for Valletta’s European Capital of Culture slot, we gradually understand that the version we are seeing could not be performed there. Political content was banned, and they were concerned for the safety of their Maltese friends.

The politics is dark and significant, centring on the 2017 assassination of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Still unsolved, her murder links to the sale of Maltese passports and the question of who gets to be European. Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants drown in boats off the Maltese coast, while the authorities deny any such people exist. It is a real achievement to make such a powerful and important show, tackling a complex web of themes, while also finding time for crowd-surfing. This is Sh!t Theatre’s strongest show yet, a tour-de-force told in their inimitable voices.

Collapsible

Collapsible by Margaret Perry – Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

A monologue performed by Breffni Holohan perched on a concrete platform, Collapsible is about mental breakdown. The narrator has lost he job and has done something unspecified but bad. Friends and relatives are concerned by wary, and she pushes people away. The tone of Perry’s writing is manic, balancing like like Holohan on the edge. There are strong shades of ‘Fleabag’s’ unreliable, self-deluding narrator, although without the sex. Collapsible is well-performed but seems familiar and too predictable for a a play about what happens when it all falls apart.

Styx

Styx by Max Barton & Addison Axe- Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

A band, led by a brother and a sister, tell stories of their grandparents and their loss of memory, filtered through the Orpheus myth. Max talks to his grandmother, in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, on the soundtrack, while the band perform his songs about Orpheus. She and his grandfather, now dead, ran a basement Swiss Cottage jazz club in the 1950s and Max searches for evidence of the place. Like Orpheus, whenever he turns to look it disappears.

Styx is original and surprisingly theatrical. Interviews with Max’s amusing and characterful grandma are signalled with a flashing light, like a seance. Band members play parts in the narration, and the songs are strong. Max and Addison are accomplished musicians, and the way they work together is both charming and, in their love for their grandparents and their history, properly moving.

Sea Sick

Sea Sick by Alana Mitchell – CanadaHub at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Alana Mitchell is at pains to point out she is not a performer. She has been driven to stand in front of audience by the urgency of a message she believes is more important than anything. She has uncovered stunning evidence that carbon in the atmosphere is acidifying the world’s oceans, a process that could lead to the extinction of all life on earth. She tells, in an engaging lecture, the story of how she, as a journalist, came to be investigating this little known, devastating climate change phenomenon.

Mitchell’s message is deeply alarming although she does believe we have the means to save the oceans, if not necessarily the political will. It seems harsh to quibble from a theatrical point of view with such a heartfelt and important undertaking. However, questions are left hanging, in particular about why she has chosen to take her message on stage. Not exactly a mass medium, it seems that other communication options would make more sense for a self-declared non-performer. Actually, Mitchell does a fine job which makes her protestations seem a litle disingenuous, but it is hard not to wish her very well indeed with the task she has taken on herself.

Hallowed Ground

Hallowed Ground by Carolyn Bock & Helen Hopkins – Army at the Fringe, Edinburgh

Four women combine stories of women doctors in war, from First World War to the 21st century. The writers have uncovered some little known stories, which include the pioneering women who served foreign allies when the British Army refused them. The fight for recognition continues to Dunkirk, Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the only way to prove yourself is to save lives. Performances are effective, but the show is best viewed as a set of oral histories.

The Patient Gloria

The Patient Gloria by Gina Moxley – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

As soon as Gina Moxley, in suit and gold boots, steps centre stage it is clear something special is happening. As both writer and lead performer she is the ringmaster for a glorious, riotous evening that feels good and hits hard. Moxley is about to play three men – all psychiatrists – and we know this because she tells us while swinging a cock-and-balls. These are made from stuffed tights, with bird seed ‘for heft’, and she is trying them out for size to find out how it feels to be in charge. She unfolds the true story of a demonstration film, made in the 1960s supposedly for psychiatry students, in which a woman called Gloria is analysed by three shrinks. Liv O’Donoghue plays Gloria, who is patronised, used and pulled apart in a sequence of leering power games. The films were later released for all to see without her permission.

On paper, the story sounds worthy but on stage it is one of the most enjoyable things you will ever see. Moxley turns the tables on the grim patriarchy with a series of fierce parodies of the psychiatrists involved. Director John McIlduff stages with unstoppable verve, as Moxley disappears up Gloria’s skirts and another phallus flies around on a drone. The action constantly breaks for gleeful comment, and proceedings are accompanied by Jane Deasy in bass. When, inevitably, she ends the performance with ‘Gloria’ it feels like a blow against male control of women’s lives, expressed through irresistible theatre. Gina Moxley is clearly at the top of her game.