George Bernard Shaw's 1906 play centres on a Harley Street doctor who must decide which of his patients most deserves treatment.
It continues at the NT Lyttelton until 12 September.
…The genius of the play, which is given a wonderfully limber and entertaining revival by Nadia Fall, making an auspicious NT debut, lies in its humanising the real dilemma: that of how best to direct resources in the health service, and provide for those unable to afford the best and newest treatment. Ridgeon - played with a triumphant finality in a major performance from Aden Gillett…The play is handsomely and ingeniously designed by Peter McKintosh, gorgeously lit by Neil Austin, and punctuated with blasts of period music (and the clip-clop of horses outside the consulting rooms). In Dubedat's studio, Jennifer is revealed - literally - as his life model, and her nude portraits adorn the fifth act Bond Street gallery…Previous productions by Alan Strachan (1981) and Michael Grandage (1998) - at Greenwich and the Almeida - have emphasised different aspects of the play, its comedy and meaning, but I now realise it's the play itself, so beautifully written, that shows a different face each time you see it; a masterpiece of prophetic social commentary, as well as a great love story.
In the medical world, constrained resources make for tough decisions. George Bernard Shaw’s 1906 play explores this – and in Nadia Fall’s revival feels resonant. It begins unappealingly, with a lot of stodgy exposition. Some rather broad acting and Shaw’s close interest in medical technicalities make for a heavy first half hour. But as the humour darkens, it becomes more engaging…Louis Dubedat…Played by Tom Burke with a weariness that’s measured to perfection…Genevieve O’Reilly brings a winning sincerity to the role, and there is sexual tension between her and Aden Gillett’s Rigdeon – though not enough…In truth, the star of the show is Peter McKintosh’s handsome and mobile set, a sublime example of what can be done at the National Theatre. The play itself seems an awkward hybrid of satire and tragic love story. It’s intriguing, but not quite what the doctor ordered.
Those inspired to rejoice in the NHS by Danny Boyle’s spin on the Olympic Games opening ceremony might well draw added satisfaction from this Bernard Shaw revival, which reminds us how mercifully far we’ve come since the days of rampant quackery…Confronted in his plush Marylebone consulting room by the pleadings of one Jennifer Dubedat on behalf of her poor, TB-afflicted artist husband Louis, he agrees to consider putting the chap on his breakthrough inoculation programme, even though that means someone else cops it. He’s prompted partly by Louis’s undoubted artistic talent, mainly because he fancies his chances with Jennifer in the event of her husband’s death. That demise is then fast-tracked as the conflicted Colenso - aghast at the young bohemian’s outspoken, scrounging ways - opts to treat a poor physician friend instead. But his passion for Jennifer remains a crucial factor in the decision to leave Louis in the lurch. Never mind the Hippocratic oath, just feel the brazen hypocrisy.
George Bernard Shaw wrote fiery condemnations and this one places doctors under the microscope. Shaw, as ever, has been to the word mine and talks the thing to near-death…Nadia Fall’s production is sumptuously done: period dress (or undress in the case of Mrs Dubedat in one scene) and sweeping, broad rooms, as tends to happen on the landscape-shaped Lyttelton stage. Miss O’Reilly is efficient but her brow is as expressionless as Alan Hansen’s. The play’s success is in satirising the medical profession. The first act is a prolonged riff on this, with a trio of eminent quacks embodying stereotypes: the surgeon obsessed by blood poisoning, the royal doctor scornful of science and the world-weary old timer. Malcolm Sinclair hams it up as witless Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington, the courtiers’ clueless doc, and he earns plenty of laughs. But why did I keep feeling I was watching an imitation of David Haig?...Shaw examines one position then another, like Arthur Negus peering at an antique chamber pot from every angle. You need patience.