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Professor Bernhardi

Published Thursday 7 April 2005 at 16:00 by John Thaxter

Fourteen years after Zola’s angry intervention in the Dreyfus affair, Schnitzler wrote this tongue-in-cheek satire on anti-Semitism in Viennese political and professional circles.

In the interests of a dying patient Jewish doctor, Professor Bernhardi, prevents a Catholic priest from administering the last rites to a girl who is blissfully unaware of her imminent death. The upshot is a witch-hunt that sets medical etiquette against religious orthodoxy, the Christian establishment against Jews, creates a funding crisis for the teaching hospital and even has Bernhardi convicted and banged up for ‘agitating the Catholic religion’.

In other hands this could make for heavy-going melodrama. But thanks to Schnitzler’s witty script in a sparkling new version by Samuel Adamson, the evening is a gripping Shavian-style debate in which, beyond passions and the power struggle, factional interests seek career advantage, while the ever-buoyant Bernhardi simply wants to get on with his job of healing the sick.

Third and best of The Last Waltz season at the Arcola, Mark Rosenblatt’s sumptuous staging assembles a powerful 13-strong cast led by Christopher Godwin as a Bernhardi of gentle grace, charm, wit and twinkle-eyed optimism.

His superb central performance is brilliantly supported by John Stahl doubling as an outspoken medic of James Robertson Justice dimensions and a devious Austrian minister of cultural affairs. There are also fine contributions from Dale Rapley as Bernhardi’s self-serving rival, Roger Evans as a sly, heel-clicking medical student with a duelling scar and Mariah Gale eye-catching as a nurse giving false witness.

Production information

Arcola Theatre, March 15-May 7

New version by Samuel Adamson, after Arthur Schnitzler
Mark Rosenblatt
Mark Rosenblatt, Oxford Stage Company, Dumbfounded Theatre
Cast includes:
Christopher Godwin, Roger Evans, Dale Rapley, John Stahl
Running time:
2hr 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014