I was very kindly given tickets to see the new production of A Doctor's Dilemma, at The National Theatre last Thursday directed by Nadia Fall. I took along a theatre buddy and avoided reading anything about the show in the lead up in order to be as open minded as possible.
We had fabulous seats and were both instantly struck by the beautiful set design (designed by Peter McKintosh), which revealed itself to be increasingly impressive throughout the show.
On the whole, I am not familiar with George Bernard Shaw's plays however, I am aware they generally explore moral dilemmas, social hypocrisies. A Doctor's Dilemma, originally staged in 1906, certainly does that. It questions how we can determine the value of an individual and more directly, if you can save the life of only one man, how do you choose who deserves it most?
|David Calder, Aden Gillet, Malcolm Sinclair and Derek Hutchinson|
|Tom Burke as Dubedat and Genevieve O'Reilly as Jennifer Dubedat|
It is an interesting dilemma but I had my own to battle with in regards to this play. On paper this is a fascinating debate yet in practice/production I just could not engage with it.
Although superbly acted by a wonderful cast it simply lacked in impact for me (despite often being very funny). The production was beautiful, the performances on a whole were great - I particularly enjoyed Tom Burke's Dubedat. But I just didn't care about the dilemma, the stakes weren't high enough for me and more importantly I could not work out why this play was relevant for today.
There were fleeting moments of resonance, wry remarks made about the dubious agenda of the drug industries and an insight into the questionable morals of the private medical profession. Some of the doctors involved were motivated by money, others by fame. Very few, if any, by a desire to simply heal the sick. But these points really were sporadic and so, on the whole, I just couldn't understand what I was supposed to take away from it.
Plays aren't just put on, particularly at The National Theatre of England, they are programmed. Classic pieces over new commissions, are one assumes, specifically chosen. The Artistic Director feels they have something to say, a debate to ignite, a relevant point to make. I can only suppose I was meant to understand and appreciate the importance of the National Health Service, our publicly funded healthcare system which is increasingly under threat due to government cuts and policy.
The National Health Service's system ensures that no Doctor has the opportunity to choose who he treats over another, there is treatment for all....in theory. I'm not going to go into the waiting lists, the postcode lottery of treatments. The NHS treats one and the same as best it can despite cuts, policy changes, targets and mounting pressure from all sides.
So maybe that's what I was supposed to feel, but I didn't. My fellow theatre buddy in turn didn't either, instead she felt angry. Angry that what this theatre wanted to say to a modern audience wasn't instead given to a contemporary playwright to say in a more emphatic manner with a new commission. Maybe that choice came down to the fact that The National Theatre has a responsibility to achieve the right ratio of classic to new pieces...maybe not.
I won't pretend that I am not a New Writing enthusiast but I do feel strongly that a lot of classic plays can often make their points with more emphasis when it comes from a period we don't think, based on appearance, we can relate to anymore. An issue that resonates can be far more effective when coming from an unexpected place. Classic/Period pieces often makes me better understand that humanity is not affected by tailcoats and hoop skirts. Times and society have changed but ultimately we are all people trying to muddle through as best we can.
I was pleased I got the opportunity to see the production and oddly it has made me want to become more familiar with Shaw, I want to explore his other moral dilemmas and find one I can more directly engage with...let me know if you have any recommendations!
Do let me know if you have seen the National's production, I am happy to debate and discuss alternative viewpoints. After all that's the beauty of theatre, it gets us thinking and talking.
“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
-George Bernard Shaw, A Doctor's Dilemma