Robert Icke

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The Doctor

Icke, Robert

Last Updated: Feb-28-2023
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play


The Doctor is a new play that was “very freely adapted” from a work by 19th-century Viennese doctor/playwright Arthur Schnitzler.  The author, Robert Icke, is an English playwright and director who is especially known for his reworkings of classics.  

The doctor to whom the title refers is Ruth Wolff, the renowned and rather formidable director of a private medical institute.  We learn that we are in the present day, and Dr Wolff is Jewish.  At the play’s outset, the organization is attempting to secure funding for a new building, and a new head of pharmacology is about to be chosen.  One of Dr. Wolff’s patients, a 14-year-old girl, is in sepsis following a self-induced abortion.  Her health rapidly declines.  When it becomes clear the patient is not going to make it, her parents send a Catholic priest to the hospital.  Dr. Wolff prevents the priest from entering the room to administer the last rites.  

Dr. Wolff’s actions set off a chain of events.  Her confrontation with the priest goes viral on social media, resulting in a public relations nightmare for the hospital.  In her characteristically uncompromising way, when asked to smooth things over, the doctor responds: “I think the lack of my having done something makes that really quite difficult” (p.31).  She is labelled anti-Catholic and her car is painted with a swastika.  Her choice for head of pharmacology, also Jewish, is deliberately rejected by the board in favor of a Catholic.  The funding for the institute’s new building is suddenly in doubt as a formal inquiry is opened by the Minister for Health. Disgraced, Dr. Wolff is forced to resign.    

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