A Fortunate Man
- Eddie Harrison
- 10 August 2018
This article is from 2018.
Radical deconstruction of the classic book about the medical profession
Doctors are pillars of our society, and it's only natural that we should speculate about the how and why of the manner by which they operate on us. Journalist John Berger and photographer Jean Mohr collaborated in 1967 to create the book A Fortunate Man, an essay with photographs that reflected six weeks following the routines of a country doctor, John Sassal. It's since become a classic within and without the medical profession, and gained an inadvertent mystique some years later when Sassal shot himself.
Created by New Perspectives theatre company, A Fortunate Man is an exploration of the original text from this dark hindsight, performed by Matthew Brown and Hayley Doherty in the clinical environs of one of Summerhall's authentic medical lecture theatres.
Brown and Doherty act out scenes from the book under the direction of Michael Pinchbeck, but this isn't a lecture, more of a deconstruction – if not an explosion – of the text. The book remains intact in bookshops; this is a devised theatre piece, and some may find New Perspectives's take on the material to be destructive or even self-indulgent. It's certainly radical, with several scenes drowning each other out in a manner than might leave purists yearning for the clarity of the original.
A Fortunate Man pictures Sassal as an enigma, and suggests a number of reasons for his death; his wife's demise, the strain of his job, his daughter's illness. It echoes the eternal 'who cares for the carers?' theme without offering a specific answer. Although the title is appropriated from the original text, it's hardly discussed; perhaps Sassal's suicide was nothing more mysterious than an understanding that he felt his good fortune had finally run out.
This kind of meditation on a text can and should be divisive; New Perspectives and Pinchbeck perhaps overdo the technique at times, but the result is a stimulating and sometimes compelling piece of theatre, worth seeing whether you've read the original book or not.
Summerhall, until Aug 26 (not 13, 20), 4.30pm, £10.