Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Doctor's Dilemma - National Theatre, Friday 20th July 2012


The story opens on the day that Ridgeon, a prominent research doctor, is knighted. His friends gather to congratulate him. The friends include Sir Patrick, a distinguished old physician; Walpole, an aggressive surgeon; Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington, a charismatic society doctor; and Blenkinsop, a threadbare but honest government doctor. Each one has his favorite theory of illness and method of cure. These are incompatible--one man's cure is another man's poison. Nonetheless, they all get along.

A young woman (Mrs. Dubedat) desperately seeks help for her husband, a talented artist,  from Ridgeon, who has apparently found a way to cure consumption. Ridgeon initially refuses, but changes his mind for two reasons - Dubechat is a fine artist and Ridgeon is smitten with his wife.

When the doctors meet Dubedat, however, they find that he is a dishonest scoundrel. Ridgeon eventually decides to treat Blenkinsop (who also has consumption) and refer the artist to Bloomfield Bonington, this insuring that he will die. In the end Ridgeon justifies his behavior as a plan to let Dubedat die before his wife find out what an amoral cad he actually was. This, in fact, happens and Dubedat's artistic reputation soars.

Redpenny - William Belchambers
Dubedat- Tom Burke
Sir Patrick Cullen - David Calder
Sir Colenso Ridgeon - Aden Gillett
Minnie Tinwell - Amy Hall
Dr Schutzmacher - Paul Herzberg
Dr Blenkinsop - Derek Hutchinson
Emmy - Maggie McCarthy
Mrs Jennifer Dubedat - Genevieve O’Reilly
Mr Cutler Walpole - Robert Portal
Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington - Malcolm Sinclair
Newspaper Man - Samuel Taylor
Mr Danby - Richard Teverson

Creative Team –
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Director - Nadia Fall
Designer - Peter McKintosh
Lighting Designer - Neil Austin Music - Matthew Scot
Sound Designer - Gregory Clarke

Verily, we must give thanks. The sun is finally shining after months of rain and gloom (although personally I would prefer the heat to be slightly less ferocious, thank you very much). The Olympics will soon be over, leaving only a team of rubbish collectors chasing plastic bottles and cardboard cups around Stratford and Greenwich Park to get on with the long process of being dug up, built on, trampled all over and generally abused. The Accounts Department will serve Lord Coe with the final bill (“Well, that will be fifty six trillion, two hundred million, four hundred and eighty seven thousand, four hundred and eight pounds and 26 pence please. And no, we don’t take Visa”) who will then gesture towards Joe Public and say “My friends are paying”. And the National are once again showing a classic play, given it a lush production and a good cast and (for once) a decent poster.

This really is the kind of thing the National should be doing all the time (or at least a good deal more often). Presenting plays that may have fallen slightly out of fashion for various reasons, but which are worthy of being wheeled up from the morgue, being given a shot of something in the arm to perk them up a bit and exposure to the oxygen of applause. Voila, we have brought a classic play back to life, simply by stimulating its phagocytes. I mean, look at how successful London Assurance was a while back. People like this kind of stuff. It sells. And it’s a bloody good piece of writing. Its intelligent, addresses important points and is very funny, Yes, it might show signs of its age by being a bit wordy on occasion, but it honestly didn’t feel like it had a 2 ½ hour running time. In fact, the interval took me completely by surprise. And honestly, people can concentrate for that long because we’re not all idiots with the attention span of – sorry, I have to go check Facebook for a second.

Part of the productions’ appeal is its grand set design, which is wonderful. Before curtain up, a chap in the row behind us was reading the programme and gasped “Oooh look, each of the scenes is set in a different place” (perhaps he doesn't go to the theatre very often, bless him). I don’t think he was disappointed either, because no seemingly no expense has been spared. Sir Bingelybat Picnic-Hamper’s consulting rooms (really, Shaw outdid himself with stupid names in this play) are extremely grand, even if the windows do need a bit of a scrub. It’s the first time I’ve seen a dining table rise up out of the floor in the Lyttleton auditorium, even if the candelabra should have been placed parallel with the long sides rather than the short ones. And all the artist’s studio needs to make it perfect is a trio of merrily starving students (preferably a poet, a painter and a playwright) and a consumptive needlewoman expiring on the chaise lounge (which sounds like it needs to be a very big chaise lounge in order for them all to expire on it, but you know what I mean). The only gripe I have is that, in the final scene, the paintings are more or less obscured by the dropped in wall – although this does allow for some nice bits of direction as Aiden Gillet and Genevieve O’Reilly spar verbally while viewing them.

Although the lead character is ostensibly Sir Colenso (which to me sounds like something you would pour down a drain to unblock it), he is actually somewhat of a minor character in the play. Most of the best lines are given not to him but to one of the other three medical men – personally I think that Malcolm Sinclair walks away with the entire evening purely because he has the most perfect comic timing, and looks like he has just stepped out of an Edwardian painting of a doctor (I initially thought the one I was seeing in my minds eye was that by Sir Luke Fildes, but it turns out I am wrong.  The one I am thinking of can be seen in the Hogwarts Infirmary with its companion piece called "The Nurse" but I can't remember who it is by.  Answers on a postcard please). There is the opportunity for a number of minor characters to have their time in the spotlight – notably Emmy, Sir Colenso’s housekeeper, lumbering up and down like a kindly old elephant. All that Maggie McCarthy is missing in this role is a glass of warm milk and some digestive biscuits on a tray (I did wonder whether it was implied or whether I just imagined it that this character was once Sir Colenso’s Nanny?). There is a fine cameo of an incredibly insensitive reporter by Samuel Taylor and Tom Burke is louche, caddish, completely reprehensible but devilishly sexy as Dubedat, handling the switch from pathos to bathos and back again particularly well in his deathbed scene. The only weak link is Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mrs. Dubedat – I found her shrill, unconvincing and far too “theatrical” in her performance – if she had been playing an actress her performance would have been great, but to me she seemed both shallow and completely over the top. In fact, I would say that in her case, you could actually see her acting. Listen for the susurration from the audience when she slips off her robe and strides about naked – its very funny and sounds like the audience are not entirely sure whether they should be scandalised by her nudity but then decide that its ok for a woman to get her baps out because this is a play by GBS, after all, and therefore acceptable.

I do have a gripe about her costumes, too. They are extremely pretty and very “period” – but she wears them at incorrect times. In the first scene, which takes place mid-morning, she is wearing pretty walking outfit, but appears in it again (with the addition of a long motoring coat) at the evening dinner party, when she should be in evening dress. She finally appears in an evening dress at the end of scene four – but has apparently managed to lace herself into a corset and a tight fitting bodice without any human assistance. Yes, yes, I know, I’m a nitpicker. Live with it.

And finally, finally, run to the roof and shout hurrah; the National Theatre Publicity Department have seen the light and have designed an appropriate poster/programme cover for this production. A couple of years ago, if not more, the decision was taken (I believe by Nick Hytner) that all NT production posters would henceforth be photographic, in an “in house” style and with a standardised, sans serif font in gaudy paintbox colours. This has led to many hideous, boring images that really have very little to do with the productions they advertise. Thankfully this policy has been rescinded and the production is graced by an appropriate, painted image. However, one wonders, as the production was planned two years ago, and casting presumably sewn up shortly after that, why the image doesn’t actually show Genevieve O’Reilly? As one of the themes of the play is Dubedat’s almost obsessive need to draw and paint his wife, surely an image of the actress playing her would be appropriate?

Aaaaanyway, minor carps aside, this is a good solid production which achieved the practically impossible – it cheered me up after a major domestic the night before and for that alone it is worthy of commendation. People who haven’t rowed with their Other Half will still enjoy it.

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