The Doctor review – Almeida Theatre

4 star review

Robert Icke ends his long and fruitful association with the Almeida (Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, Oresteia, 1984 to name a few) with this “freely” adapted version of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1912 play Professor Bernhardi.

Juliet Stevenson plays Professor Ruth Wolff, the head of a private medical institute, who finds herself at the centre of a PR storm when she refuses to allow a priest to administer the last rites to a teenager who is is dying from sepsis after a self-administered abortion.

Wolff likes to be “crystal clear” about what she thinks – it’s a phrase she uses multiple times – and she’s a stickler for the precise use of language. What’s so clever about Icke’s play is that things are not crystal clear at all.  It constantly forces you to reassess everything you see and hear.  A character may say they are a particular sex or colour, but that’s not what’s in front of you.

There’s a strangeness about many of the earlier scenes – such as Wolff’s conversations with her partner (Joy Richardson) and the teenager in her house (Ria Zmitrowicz) – which only start to make sense towards the end.

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Ria Zmitrowicz and Juliet Stevenson in The Doctor (photo: Manuel Harlan)

 

Stevenson, in her white coat, is a rivetting presence. Her performance seems to becomes more powerful as her character becomes increasingly vulnerable.

The play explores anti-semitism, faith versus science, personal versus public interest, gender politics,  freedom of choice and above all – the concept of identity.

The second act brings this into sharp focus in gripping scene in which Professor Wolff is quizzed in a live TV debate. Except it’s more like a witch trial (in an earlier scene Wolff says “doctors are witches in white”). This being an Icke play, it’s no surprise that this involves the use of a camera and big screen projections onto Hildegard Bechtler’s suitably clinical set.

Stevenson is utterly spellbinding throughout, and there’s strong support from Zmitrowicz, Mariah Louca as the hospital’s press officer, Nathalie Armin as Health Minster Jemima Flint and Paul Higgins as the priest.

My final diagnosis? It’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Doctor is at the Almeida Theatre until 28 September 2019

The Hunt review – Almeida Theatre

3 star review

Halfway through The Hunt one of the characters, a man sharpening a large blade, sings sweetly: “Each town has its witch, each parish its troll…”

The subject of the witch hunt in this play by David Farr, based on Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 Danish film Jagten, is Lucas (Tobias Menzies), a teacher falsely accused of sexual assault by six-year-old Clara, a girl in his class who is also the daughter of his best friend.

The resulting hysteria has a devastating effect not just on Lucas but on the tightly-knit community in northern Denmark where he lives.

This is a place where the men of the town are bonded by guns, beer drinking and midnight rituals in their hunting lodge in the forest. What could possibly go wrong?

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Photo: Marc Brenner

Es Devlin’s stark set has at its centre a brightly-lit glass shed that can switch from transparent to opaque. At times the masculinity is literally dripping off the walls.

Director Rupert Goold ramps up the atmosphere with the occasional appearance inside of a mythical stag-headed beast accompanied by Adam Cork’s thudding soundtrack.

The overall result is an intense but riveting two hours of Nordic Noir.

Menzies puts in a devastatingly powerful performance as we follow his harrowing journey from trusted school teacher to social pariah and suspected paedophile.

One niggle is why Lucas never denies the accusations early on – to either the school or Clara’s parents. I wanted to shout at the stage: “Just tell them what happened!” It’s an annoying plot device beloved of soap operas. But why here?

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Michele Austin as Hilde (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Other excellent support comes from Michele Austin as the school head Hilde and Poppy Miller and Justin Salinger as Clara’s parents Mikala and Theo. On the opening night Clara was played by Taya Tower, making an impressive stage debut.

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Taya Tower as Clara (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Goold lets things become a bit overwrought towards the end. I had trouble working out what was happening during a frantic scene with the townsfolk crammed in the church.

But this is theatre that leaves you stunned and breathless. Definitely one for those who like their Scandi drama on the dark side.

The Hunt is at the Almeida Theatre until 3 August

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Photo by Marc Brenner

Three Sisters review – Almeida Theatre

When the world doesn’t seem be working out the way you expect, you can’t beat a bit of Chekhov to put things in perspective.

Anyone of a like mind should consider heading to north London for this delightful new version of Three Sisters by Cordelia Lynn.

The original story of the Prozorov siblings, stuck in a provincial Russian town dreaming of a life in Moscow, is very much intact, but the language – with added swearing and even a TS Eliot quote – sparkles and zings for a 21st century audience.

Director Rebecca Frecknall places her characters carefully around (and sometimes just off) the stage as if pieces in some magnificent chess game.

This play reunites Frecknall with Patsy Ferran, who recently won the best actress Olivier award for their previous project Summer and Smoke.

That play, which also won for best revival, ended up in the West End after starting out at the Almeida. I’d be surprised if Three Sisters didn’t follow the same trajectory.

Ferran is as magnetic as ever as Olga, the eldest of the sisters. It’s a shame she doesn’t get more stage time.

She’s joined by Pearl Chanda as the wonderfully moody Masha, while Ria Zmitrowicz is excellent as the youngest, Irina, who we see start out so full of youth and promise only to see it crushed out of her as the acts progress.

In one of the play’s best scenes, Chanda heartbreakingly portrays Masha’s despair at the departure of Vershinin (Peter McDonald), the married soldier she loves, while her foolish husband Kulygin (Elliott Levey) goofs about in complete denial.

The set is simple but effective. I like to think that the single piano on stage was one of the many that appeared in Summer and Smoke.

My first experience of Chekhov was seeing Three Sisters at the Barbican in the late 1980s with Harriet Walter as Masha. I fell in love then with the dramatist’s unhappy, frustrated world.

This version is every bit as good. It blew my Chekhovian socks off. Forget Moscow. We must go to Islington.

Three Sisters is at the Almeida Theatre until 1 June