“A Fortunate Man” review: a tender, tragic portrait

John Berger and Jean Mohr’s essay-book A Fortunate Man was published in 1967. It follows the life of an English country doctor, John Sassall, who killed himself some years after the book was published. More than 50 years later, UK theatre company New Perspective takes on this tale in a play of the same name.

Undeniably, Sassall’s story is tinged with tragedy. A man who spent his life caring for others and yet, had met with an abrupt end. Writer-director Michael Pinchbeck’s deliberately portrays Sassall’s death not as a sinister tale but a gentle allegory on the fragility of a caring doctor. Pinchbeck’s Sassall carries a signature phrase “I know, I know, I know” when consulting patients, a testament to his kind attention and understanding. He plays a doting husband; he only takes his life after his wife’s death.

Yet, the considerate devotion in Sassall’s depiction can be limiting. With the play’s lecture-style structure, the rigidity and repetition (“Slide please”) overshadows any another interpretation of Sassall’s death. As actors Hayley Doherty and Jamie de Courcey swap roles onstage, they occasionally mirror each other’s actions and interchange lines. However, this duplicity is purposely shut out in Sassall’s portrayal. Almost saint-like, Pinchbeck’s Sassall is the pinnacle exemplar of a selfless, devoted family doctor. There is no misfortune here.

This review is based on the performance on 19 January 2019. Part of M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, A Fortunate Man ran from 18-19 January at Esplanade Theatre Studio.

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