The Good Doctor

Wed 12th – Sun 30th August 2015


Poppy McLean

at 11:32 on 21st Aug 2015



The Fringe is known for many things, but gentleness is not generally one of them. Stifling subterranean venues, shockingly bold stand-up and even bolder fashion choices yes, but it is safe to say that the charm of Theatre Alba’s idyllic production of Neil Simon’s play is wonderfully refreshing.

The production’s beautiful setting, overlooking Duddingston Loch, was ample reward for a somewhat tedious commute, and complemented well the spirit of the play: as bright, diverse Chekhovian stories danced in procession before the (somewhat mature) audience, swallows dived, branches swayed and the indubitable Scottish midge hovered on the night air. The large organic space was used with great creativity, and its natural liveliness facilitated the withdrawal of momentarily minor figures (notably the Writer, who remained onstage throughout).

Director Corinne Harris’ decision to split this narrating presence into two people was, at least initially, slightly confusing, especially because Marcus Macleod seemed to be very much the principal character with Robert Williamson as a gleeful voice occasionally chipping in. However, the skilful chemistry between the two did a great deal to smooth this potential discord out, and it was an interesting reflection that the Writer would often literally cast part of himself in his tale. Williamson was also responsible for various folkish musical contributions, which enriched the performance.

The stories themselves were an enchanting blend of social parody, physical comedy and rich, human drama. They gave rise to an intriguing balance between the comically absurd (a man offers his own drowning as entertainment) and the perfectly-observed motions of human interaction (his listener proceeds ultimately to haggle down his price).

These gems were brought to life by an incredibly talented cast, who all seemed to possess an extremely sensitive understanding of Simon’s script and the varying moods each story required. Especially memorable were Marcus Macleod’s effortless shapeshift from likeable writer to predatory seducer extraordinaire, Alan Ireby and Michael Cook as a green young dentist and his blustering client, and Kirsten Maguire’s heartfelt monologue.

However, some stories definitely dragged: ‘The Governess’ and ‘A Defenceless Creature’, each certainly risked losing the audience’s interest, with their dislikeable, unrealistic antagonist and plenty of repetition. The other potentially uninspiring aspect of the play was the writer’s brief and occasional musings on his craft, suffering, comedy, and other such weighty subjects; these comments did not seem sufficiently established to really hold the play together in some sort of mental progression on the narrator’s part.

Perched as it is on the fringe of the Fringe, this unrushed, charming play will not suit all festival-goers. However, those willing to slow down and take it on its own terms may just encounter an enchanting and memorable experience under a slowly darkening sky, down by Duddingston Loch.


Holly Harper

at 11:52 on 21st Aug 2015



Chekhov, in both his plays and short stories, celebrates the mundane in all its peculiar beauty. Against the backdrop of Duddingston Kirk Gardens, these eight short stories arranged into a play by Neil Simon seem both at odds with their surroundings and yet extraordinarily appropriate. Each short story has its own charm, comedy is repeatedly offset by tragedy and suffering, the audience will find itself laughing at death, stifling a giggle at a drowning man, and sneering at injustice and pain. A play ingeniously arranged into a coherent narrative by Neil Simon, The Good Doctor has entertainment at its heart.

The themes of each story are manifestly Chekhovian in their simultaneously contrasting sense of delight and despair, with Simon’s play doing its upmost to explore the manipulative powers of a writer by including him as a character on the stage alongside his stories. The Writer’s constant presence on stage in Corinne Harris’s adaption gives the impression that we are seeing the action as it is written. At points The Writer playfully offering up alternative endings to the original tragic ones. On more than one occasion, a death is interrupted with the decision to give the character 5 million rubles as an alternative conclusion. It is the audience that is left to decide what really happens.

The directorial decision to split The Writer into two parts is at times a little confusing, with players acting a number of parts already it seems to add more confusion than its worth. It is perhaps a purposeful decision by Harris, who writes in the program about her desire to explore this power struggle between writer and character by blurring the distinguishing lines.

For the most part, my experience with the concept of open air theatre has been limited to a few unfortunate battles with weather, and I must admit I expected no better from the usual inclemency of Edinburgh skies, yet miraculously no rain was seen. My initial cynicism immediately disappeared as the sun went down over Duddingston Kirk Gardens, beautifully appropriate surroundings for an evening full of humanity and humour.

These talented actors projected with skill and clear diction, each bringing something new to the performance. Although at points the drama lulled in this lengthy two hour performance, it was the actors’ chemistry with each other that really worked to keep the play alive. Amongst the heavy themes of tragedy, death and suffering, there was something very charming about the varied characterisation of each protagonist that maintained the audience’s attention for the entirety of the performance. An evening at Duddingston was nothing like anything else I’ve experienced at the fringe this year: a must for anyone yearning for an escape from the heaving city.


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