Thursday, 2 August 2012
The Doctor's Dilemma at The Lyttleton
Due to the Olympic panic surrounding travelling to and around London last night, our earlier departure meant we arrived at The National somewhat earlier than normal; five pm to be exact. But, no matter, there is always something to do or see in this wonderful space and the absence of a rushed drive meant the minimum of stress. A plus, because, even though last night the stage at The Lyttleton was littered with the medical profession, there wasn’t one of the Doctors I would trust with diagnosing or treating anything! Which was obviously one of the points Bernard Shaw was making when he wrote the play in 1906, as a challenge from his friend, the theatre critic, William Archer, to write a tragedy involving death. In fact the play, The Doctor’s Dilemma, turned out to be a comedy with the subtitle of “A Tragedy”.
The play centres around Sir Colenso Ridgeon a much feted surgeon who has discovered a new inoculation against TB. The beautiful Jennifer Dubedat begs him to save her artist husband’s life, but Ridgeon has a problem in that he can only cure a small number of patients. When he discovers that Louis Dubedat is an out and out scoundrel and that he himself has fallen in love with Mrs. Dubedat, his dilemma is whether he uses his skill to cure the artist or a worthy fellow doctor.
Thus Shaw, in highlighting a time when private doctors charged a small fortune for pointless operations, has produced a relevant play for today, when profit is often put before the patient’s good. Ridgeon’s three eminent doctor friends, Mr Cutler Walpole (Robert Portal) Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington (Malcolm Sinclair) and Sir Patrick Cullen (David Calder), although perpetually sending up their self-important characters, just about manage not to slip into caricature and provide Act One with plenty of laughs. Malcolm Sinclair is particularly funny, despite mercilessly hamming it up.
Genevieve O’Reilly makes a worthy Jennifer Dubedat and leaves us in no doubt that she adores her feckless husband, but she is somewhat lacking in the facial acting department. Nevertheless she kind of makes up for that when partially disrobed in Act Two; the actress has an amazing figure!! Tom Burke’s Louis Dubedat on the other hand is excellent. He makes us ultimately like a dislikeable rogue which is no mean feat. Actually there is no weak link in the whole cast, although for me the acting honours ultimately belong to Aden Gillett as the self-satisfying Sir Colenso Ridgeon. When he looks at himself in the mirror and smooths down his hair before admitting Mrs Dubedat into his consulting room, we are in no doubt that this is a vain, although ultimately tragic man. He is about to sacrifice his professional conscience to his physical desire.
Peter McKintosh’s sumptuous design and Neil Austin’s atmospheric lighting cannot be faulted. They perfectly highlight the differences between the affluence of a private medical practice and poverty of Dubedat’s artist studio. Meanwhile Nadia Fall’s direction is spot on.
If only Mr Shaw had had more of an idea as to how to conclude the play. Then the prognosis would be even more positive.