Singapore Fringe Festival 2019
“50 years ago, the visionary writer John Berger and photographer Jean Mohr published A Fortunate Man, which followed the daily life of English country general practitioner.
Part theatre-lecture, part expressionistic explosion of the book, A Fortunate Man is a powerful and poignant interrogation about the passions and pressures of being a doctor in the modern world.”
Photo credit: Julian Hughes
A Fortunate Man, a new play based on the book of the same title is brought to life vividly by New Perspectives theatre company, written and directed by Michael Pinchbeck. Two actors, Hayley Doherty and Jamie de Courcey play all the characters and narrate throughout. The story is about John Sassall, a country doctor in rural England in the 60s and how he goes about his life, day to day – as witnessed by writer John Berger and photographer Jean Mohr.
It’s a fascinating theme and as the sixty minute play unfolds we learn how one’s perception of being a medical doctor may be different from the truth.
A medical screen, metal trolley with accoutrements and a blackboard comprise the set, with a few surprises hidden away. At the start recordings of actual interviews with doctors and patients are played as de Courcey and Doherty, in 60s costumes – he in a brown tweed suit and she in a grey dress – prepare to give a lecture. Slides are projected on the canvas of the folding medical screen on command and off we go on a a journey through the countryside, which takes us through Sassall’s routine landscape in the Forest of Dean with all and sundry en route.
Scenes are enacted with brief dialogue and interaction, often accompanied by snippets by Berger interspersed with authentic physical actions such as taking someone’s blood pressure. Sassall’s diary allows us to enter into the lives of people in various states of health, despair, and unhappiness. The enacted scenes, Mohr’s photographs, Berger’s observations, and narration flow together seamlessly and it is all so absorbing, moving and real as we are privy to such personal thoughts in a sensitive fashion.
Director Pinchbeck uses every part of the stage very creatively as the actors transform from the many characters in their banal state to moments of inspired abstract movement, especially by de Courcey. A beautifully staged scene is when Dr Sassall sits with a cup of tea and knows when to say the right thing to his patient. Another scene shows us how listening is what doctors do through poignant enacted conversations.
Both performers are precise, emotive and embody their characters believably. They interact, support each other and play off the other very well through their on point narrating, storytelling or physical acting. It is always clear who they are and what is happening and the pace builds with unexpected events.
What is also important is what we learn about Dr. Sassall, for example he believes that one’s imagination is key, which is refreshing, and how he helps people often relying less on medicine and more on building a rapport.
Sound designer Chris Cousin’s music selections complement the performance perfectly and transport us to the rolling hills of the English countryside. In all, A Fortunate Man is a well performed, imaginative, meaningful and very entertaining play.