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Terrific Tom in the not quite perfect Doctor's Dilemma

149135_2_previewConfession of shallowness coming up: I booked to see George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma at the Lyttleton because the very cute and ever youthful looking Tom Burke is in it, but was it worth it?

Well for a start the terrific Tom doesn't make his first appearance until late into the first half. He plays Louis Dubedat an artist with TB who's beautiful young wife Jennifer (Genevieve O'Reilly) pleads with eminent doctor, Sir Colenso Ridgeon (Aden Gillet) to have Louis included on his medical trials for a cure for the disease. Ridgeon's resources will only stretch to 10 patients on the trial and he already has all his candidates.

The dilemma has several fronts. First Ridgeon fancies Jennifer so if he helps Louis he'll never have the chance of wooing her. Secondly, one of his very good friends, the impoverished but good hearted Dr Blenkinsop (Derek Hutchinson) also has TB, so who is more deserving? And thirdly Louis is an extremely talented artist but of dubious morals, prone to charming money and goods out of people whether they can afford it or not. Should Ridgeon forgive his indiscretions  to preserve the artistic talent?

Aside from not having quite enough of Tom in the first half I have a couple of small problems with Doctor's Dilemma. It takes rather a long time to really set up the story. Much of the first half we see Ridgeon welcome a stream of medical colleagues and friends who are keen to congratulate him on his recent knighthood. Each doctor has a different theory about medical scientific practices and the treatment of TB and there is a lot of debate about the merits of each.

And then there is the dilemma itself. The central premise is that Ridgeon gets to play God, decide who lives and who dies but it never feels like there is really that much anxiety about the enormity of the decision.

The first half is as entertaining as a group of men of a certain age, sitting around on leather sofas, drinking whiskey, trying to out-pompous each other can be but it is the appearance of Jennifer and then Louis when it really feels like it comes into it's own.

Of course it is all brilliantly acted with the terrific Tom oozing charm so that it is easy to see how he sucks people in and earns sympathy. And once again the National Theatre has a few tricks up its sleeve with its amazing staging - another case of never having seen a stage at the National, the Lyttleton in this instance, do that before.

But there is a tinge of the unsatisfactory. Yes this a witty and laugh out loud comedy with some great lines but I couldn't help thinking that a little too much lightness was being made of such an important issue, there just wasn't quite enough anxiety in the dilemma. 

Doctor's Dilemma just pushes into the 4 star bracket for me. It runs in rep at the Lyttleton until Weds 12 September and I'd see it again just for Tom.


Tom worked with Andrew Scott in a Design for Living at the Old Vic in 2010 and of course Mr Scott has worked with Mr W on Cock and The Hour. *Update 22/12/12: just revisiting this post for my annual review and realised there is actually a direct link. When I saw Doctor's Dilemma I didn't realise that Tom was in the second series of The Hour broadcast last month*