Review: The Good Doctor (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Nov 27, 2015 – Jan 17, 2016
Season continues at Glen Street Theatre (Belrose NSW), Jan 19 – 24, 2016
Playwright: Neil Simon
Director: Sandra Bates
Cast: Chloe Bayliss, Adriano Cappelletta, David Lynch, Kate Raison, Nathan Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Anything can happen in live theatre. Adriano Cappelletta was engaged to perform the lead role in The Good Doctor less than a week before opening night, replacing Glenn Hazeldine who had unfortunately sustained an injury right before preview performances were due to begin. It is a strange conundrum that happens on stage. We want a sense of danger and aliveness that recorded media is not able to replicate, but we admire the high polish a group of geniuses can cultivate in the flesh. At this early period of The Good Doctor‘s performance season, both are vigorously present.

The show consists of 10 or so short plays, all based on the writings of Anton Chekhov, and woven through a narration provided by Chekhov himself. It is pure entertainment, with some of his politics still recognisable, but Neil Simon’s script certainly does not dwell heavily on the deep and meaningful. Director Sandra Bates takes her cue from Simon and orchestrates a delightful production that makes no bones about playing for laughs. There is excellent and expert comedy in every scene, often nuanced and intricately conveyed, in a confident manner that never feels crude or patronising. For all its spirited frivolity, there is a sophistication to be found in Bates’ approach that reflects skill and flair for this genre of farcical classic comedy.

The Good Doctor boasts a cast of very strong players. Each is given four to six parts, and their versatility is demonstrated with great aplomb. Cappelletta is understandably short on fluency for opening night, but his thorough understanding of the material is frankly astonishing. We see the actor’s memory struggle on a few occasions, but the clarity at which he delivers each intention is commendable, and his natural charm keeps us firmly on his side from the very start. Equally endearing is Chloe Bayliss who captivates in every role. Her humour is sublime, and her presence magnetic. Bayliss is flawless in the production, and we are enchanted by her every appearance. Nathan Wilson plays the less mature men in the show, but his theatrical abilities are well-honed and impressive. There is a quality of exuberant abandonment to his style that appeals, along with a mischievous energy that contributes to the show’s enduring buoyancy.

Chekhov is not every person’s cup of tea, but he is a crowd-pleaser in The Good Doctor, a 40-year-old play that refuses to turn grey. It is true that there is fun to be had in our city’s many theatres, but it is not every day that a show appears, able to make us laugh without insulting our intelligence. It is indeed, very “charming and clever” (Neil Simon’s words), offering necessary respite in our much too serious and dreary lives.