In his preface to a damning satire on the medical profession Shaw labelled it a “murderous absurdity”.
Genevieve O'Reilly (Jennifer Dubedat) and Tom Burke (Dubedat) in The Doctor's Dilemma at the Lyttelton, National Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
His main beef was the quackery of the time where private doctors were charging small fortunes for pointless operations but it has since transcended its era to apply to anytime - particularly pertinent now - where profit is put before the patient’s good.
On a ravishing Edwardian set Nadia Fall’s production brilliantly resurrects the 1906 drama as a play for today, never pressing the parallels but elegantly presenting Shaw as a prescient commentator with a wicked sense of humour in the face of death.
Slightly pompous, Sir Colenso Ridgeon (Aden Gillett) believes he has discovered a new treatment that can cure tuberculosis. Enchanted by a young lady (Genevieve O’Reilly) who arrives begging him to cure her husband (Tom Burke) he has to decide whether this genius artist of dubious reputation is worth saving over lesser, but perhaps more reputable, souls.
That is just one of a host of dilemmas confronting the doctor, the audience and the director with the latter having to decide whether this is a comedy or tragedy and wisely plumping for both.
Ridgeon’s three eminent doctor friends provide most of these laughs and a quartet at the top of their game spark off each other to create an invigorating tonic. Gillett, Malcolm Sinclair, David Calder and Robert Portal send up their self-important characters without slipping into caricature to prove this one of Shaw’s funniest plays, while Burke performs the tricky feat of making us care for a dislikeable rogue who is ultimately a pawn in a morbid medical conspiracy.