The appeal of theatre is wide, sometimes to simply entertain, sometimes to mystify or shock, to amuse, to spark nostalgia… and on occasion to provoke. The latter can be disquieting and it doesn’t come more so than with The Doctor.

It’s hard to know where to start with this extraordinary work of modern theatre, and in truth it is a modern re-working of a very much earlier piece by Arthur Schnitzler now rebuilt by Robert Icke. But what a reconstruction, a new work built on the premise of actually deconstructing or even destroying the way we, the audience, will perceive the piece. Here everything we might be seeing is turned upside down and we very soon are confronted by challenges of how we view, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion… and above all how we see the hierarchical nature of society.

I am avoiding here, at all costs, trying to pin down what this theatrical experience is and what it might mean to anyone seeing it, because the way it digs deep into your personal feeling is sharp, at times shockingly intrusive. It stirs up emotions, sympathy and anger in equal parts until you, or should I say I, know not where to stand.

I dislike reviews that tell the story, give away the bones of a piece and I have strived not to do that now for many years so I’m not going to start here, especially here. This is experiential theatre, drama used to disquiet the viewer and to provoke thought.

The cast in this case are magnificent as is the staging and each player carries the story forward with such conviction that this twists that are gradually revealed become in a way irrelevant, that phrase “pronoun of choice” on this occasion making complete sense. Juliet Stevenson is quite remarkable in the title role, a career defining performance that will be remembered for many years to come. The ease with which she takes on this demanding and complex part is apparent from the very first moment and continues to the very end, and the stillness and reverential quiet of the packed theatre is testament to that, no one wanting to miss a moment, a word, a tiny gesture. It’s an ensemble piece too, each member of this terrific cast adding to the whole with demanding precision, demanding of both them and of the audience.

I am often questioned about how “woke” I am, well last night I was certainly awakened.

Andrew Kay

Theatre Royal Brighton

6 September


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