WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHERE? Almeida Theatre RUNTIME: 170 minutes (with 20-minute interval)
WHEN? 12/8, opens 20/8 and runs to 28/9/19
Welcome to writer/director Robert Icke’s final production as Associate Director at this venue in a remarkable run which has seen 3 West End transfers at 5 attempts.
- Read on for reasons including how Stevenson sits on the end of the stage with her legs hanging immediately in front of us
Icke often works with the same actors and here Juliet Stevenson (from his transfers of Hamlet and Mary Stuart) returns as the titular medic in what the venue describes as a free adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play Professor Bernhardi.
Looking back through our reviews of Icke’s work here and we found much to enjoy in his take on Ibsen’s The Wild Duck and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya which did not transfer. But it was for Broadway hit 1984 and Olivier Award-winning Oresteia for which he is perhaps best known.
Icke (interviewed below) is best known then for his modern adaptations of classic texts and that is why this reworking of a story by a Viennese dramatist which explores antisemitism and identity seems an odd choice.
The setting is present day and Stevenson plays the professor who refuses to let a priest (Line Of Duty‘s Paul Higgins always watchable in dual roles) administer the last rites to a 14-year-old girl who is dying after a failed abortion.
The play contemplates the debate between faith and medicine but isn’t afraid to become even more complicated as the social media outcry which follows dwells on the beliefs of the doctor, flirts with her sexuality and even throws race into the mix.
Stevenson repeatedly finds reassurance in the words ‘crystal clear’ but the audience are not party to such certainty and the difference between what we are seeing and what we are being told comes into question.
The technique of the TV interrogation with live cameras and screens will be familiar to fans of Icke’s previous work but, for us, our interest was never quite as piqued as when the doctor dangled her legs off the stage right at where we were sitting in the centre of the front row.
Elsewhere Ria Zmitrowicz (Three Sisters) was captivating in a role that we felt should have been better explored and the introduction of dementia into the mix just felt like one idea too many.
Stevenson is always mesmeric even, as she proves here, when the material she is working with isn’t quite the tonic one was hoping for.