Set within a situational crisis of medical ethics, this work is a treatise on identity and how one defines themself contrasting with how that person is more generally defined and judged by others as well as being a discourse that encompasses such modern day political divisive issues such as gender fluidity.
Based on (“very freely adapted” according to the playbill) Arthur Schnitzler’s Professor Bernhardi written in 1912, The Doctor is a modernisation or re-imagining of that play that references both the anti-Semitism prevalent at the time the original play was conceived and during the ensuing rise of Nazism as well as the witch hunts of the McCarthy trials as depicted in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Ideas about identity, race and class are subverted and this provokes questions that may or may not be answered with significant debate and discussion after the play has concluded.
Juliet Stevenson as the titular doctor is onstage for practically the entire performance (even remaining for a time during the intermission). The only other performer present for the duration is the inexplicable in-view but literally offstage drummer providing live accompaniment and triggering a pre-recorded score. The rest of the cast come and go both physically and in terms of there being a duality of their role-playing especially during the trial by media that Professor Wolff herself describes within the play as the “Spanish Inquisition”. By the end even her character, the “big bad” Wolff has undergone a transformation of sorts and become something else, a shell of her former self, which is entirely understandable given the philosophical attacks on her person following the events early in the play that lead to her ultimate downfall.
The play gives rise to the concept that by being blind to one’s race, gender, and religion you are just as biased as you would be for judging someone by these identifiers. Subtle hints are given throughout the performance that the characters are not who they appear to be to the audience and we come to the realisation that we may have been influenced by our own personal general assumptions made about people of a certain gender (or what gender they identify with) and race and broken down further, the assumptions made about the shade of one’s skin. The play successfully gives rise to discourse regarding such unconscious systems of belief without giving any actual answers or solutions, merely initiating a discussion that the audience will leave considering but may not ever resolve.
Adelaide Festival Review By Jason Leigh
For tickets and show information head to the Adelaide Festival