05 September 2019, The Tablet

Last rights

Last rights

Juliet Stevenson delivers a ‘searingly detailed portrayal’ in the lead role
Photo: Manuel Harlan


The Doctor
Almeida Theatre, London

When asked by students or playgoers about the function of theatre criticism, my line is that reviews should balance personal impact on the critic with what the work might mean to other playgoers. I am obsessed with football but, before acclaiming Leeds United: The Musical!, should consider what a sporting agnostic might feel.

This policy of separating reportorial and emotional responses was placed under severe pressure last week. On the way to see The Doctor, I was diverted to a hospital Intensive Therapy Unit, to which my mother had been admitted. As things turned out, I finally saw the production three hours after Mum died peacefully, her twin children each holding one of her hands, having received the final sacrament.

It was not ideal in these circumstances that the play turns on a doctor’s decision to refuse to let a Catholic priest anoint a dying patient. The production is a free adaptation by writer-director Robert Icke of Professor Bernhardi, a 1912 play by Arthur Schnitzler. The original is set in Vienna in 1900, where the title character is a Jewish doctor who suffers anti-Semitic public abuse, encouraged by Catholics, for preventing a dying patient from being given the last rites.

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