Home » Reviews » The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre

The Doctor’s Dilemma, National Theatre

George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Nadia Fall 
★★★

Pros: An old play with very current issues; interesting to watch.

Cons: The characters lack refinement and are a little disappointing, and it didn’t make me feel anything in particular.

Our Verdict: It’s a good show overall, but it’s not quite up to the National’s usual standards.

Courtesy of Alastair Muir for the Daily Telegraph

The Doctor’s Dilemma was written in response to the theatre critic William Archer’s claims that George Bernard Shaw wouldn’t be a real playwright until he’d authored a play about death. However, although death may have been the starter pistol, Shaw clearly had other intentions for this piece. While it does become darker towards the end, the first half is pitted with witty jokes, funny characters and clever writing. I’m not entirely sure if this was a bold statement about how Shaw felt about death (in a sort of laughing in the face of it kind-of-way), or whether it was more to do with the fact he’d found something else he could get his teeth into, something partially related to but not directly corresponding with death. I’m talking, of course, about the medical profession.

Shaw was a passionate believer in state funded healthcare. In a time before the Beveridge Report, which cleared the way for the introduction of the NHS, The Doctor’s Dilemma was and indeed is a softly spoken campaign for a healthcare system in which the doctors care about the health of their patients rather than their own fiduciary interests. The play is a fascinating historical piece when performed in 2012, as it actually provides another level of humour for the modern audience. The fast-paced disagreements between the doctors not only brings laughter where Shaw intended, but also where medical developments over the last 100 years have made some of what is said amusing in a different manner. Even the contemporary developments in medicine during Shaw’s lifetime bring a smile to our faces when we think about these now archaic methods and theories.

None of the characters are actually likeable. The main doctor, Sir Colenso Ridgeon (Aden Gillett), is more interested in playing god with people’s lives than he is in doctor-ing. Jennifer Dubedat (Genevieve O’Reilly) is incapable of seeing her husband’s selfish-nature, and Dubedat (Tom Burke) himself, in his attempt to become an amoral individual, actually comes across as slightly sociopathic. I was unable to sympathise with any of them, even poor old Dr Blenkinsop (Derek Hutchinson), the poor GP who suffers so much to help others; I just wanted to grab him by his scruffy dresscoat collar and try to shake some of the pathetic out of him! Despite all of this however, I’m in no way writing off the production; I don’t think Shaw meant for us to like any of these characters, all of whom are parodies of real people.

Unfortunately, the performances themselves weren’t as refined as I’ve seen previously at the National. There were a few moments where lines were missed, sentences stumbled and running orders momentarily forgotten. Some of the accents were also a little fairweather, there one second, not there the next. This perhaps goes some way to explaining the rather long running time of 2 hours 55 minutes, 15 minutes longer than the programme states. Saying this, neither half drags; in particular the first half had only two scenes to play with and yet the introduction of the expressive characters made it speed by, helped along by the fact the actors had perfectly balanced their lines, allowing for a smooth relay and fast-paced banter.

All in all the show has a strong cast, and a typically good set, designed by Peter McKintosh. However, the production as a whole, while having a reasonable moral, didn’t really make me feel anything in particular. It’s a decent evening, and National shows are always worth a try, but it’s not one of their best.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

The Doctor’s Dilemma runs at the National Theatre until 12th September 2012.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/69917/productions/the-doctors-dilemma.html

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