The Almeida (venue)
21 August 2019 (released)
23 August 2019
This is a passionate and engaging play that updates an old theme – the relation between an individual’s sense of what’s right and the social consequences of following that rigidly. Here the individual is a doctor, played superbly by Juliet Stevenson, who, as Doctor Ruth Wolff, is caring for a young, dying patient who is unconscious and unaware that she is dying – the doctor wants to let her go in that peaceful and unaware state but is confronted by the visit of a Catholic priest who arrives, at parent’s behalf, to deliver the last rites. Hospital regulations require a patient’s consent for such a visit and the patient is in no state to give consent, so the request of the priest is refused. A heated argument is then recorded by the priest on his phone and we enter the intense pressure cooker of social media involvement.
What follows is a fascinating and surprisingly engaging drama, considering that it consists almost exclusively of discursive dialogue, which provokes reflection on the complexities of individual actions in a social and historical context and within the framework and hothouse of social media. The story line, which is based on director Robert Icke’s adaptation of Professor Bernhard, a play by the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler, provides a strong framework for presenting modern issues of ethnicity, gender, personal identity and the complexities of navigating through these turbulent ideological waters. Icke’s dialogue does justice to the complexities involved, which is rare and commendable.
The cast sustain the tension and there is a fine performance by Ria Zmitrowicz as a teen-ager befriended by the doctor, and the exceptionally nuanced and powerful performance of Stevenson who carries the evening and the dialogue with all its fervour and nuance, forward. The dialogue is the strength of the play – there is some unimaginative background music which often has little connection to events or feelings, and which might be reimagined with more connection to the context and staging and direction are minimal but one leaves the evening engrossed in contemporary issues based on a believable and tragic context – a very worthwhile experience on both an emotional and intellectual level.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan