A Fortunate Man
  • By Tom King
  • |
  • 15th Aug 2018
  • |
  • ★★★

There are books which are called seminal largely because so many people have read them. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Pride and Prejudice. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (hush you - we're in Edinburgh - show some respect…)

Largely stylish surface, but lacking the depth to back it up

Far more intriguing, however, are those texts which are largely unknown outside of a specific community but, for those communities, are touchstones for their profession. For journalists, Strunk’s The Elements of Style. For horticulturalists, Cobbett’s The English Gardener. And for GPs, Berger and Mohr’s A Fortunate Man, chronicling the day-to-day life of country doctor John Sassall.

It's an importance which performers Matthew Brown and Hayley Doherty clearly appreciate and are keen to put across. Though not doctors themselves, they speak eloquently about the role of the doctor within their community. They also give us a vivid picture of authors John Berger and Jean Mohr and the working relationship they shared before and during the creation of the book.

However, having established the importance of its titular text, A Fortunate Man proceeds to give very little content the audience can use to understand the fortunate Sassall himself. We hear a few snippets and see the same poignant photo multiple times - at multiple magnifications - but there is little sense of what was special about Sassall and why he's still held up as a paragon of general practice. The crew did record verbatim interviews with two doctors about what A Fortunate Man means to them but, bafflingly, these verbatims are presented back simultaneously, rendering both completely unintelligible.

The play’s focus instead is on the events following the book; Sassall’s wife Joan’s death, his subsequent decline in mental health and his own untimely demise. These details are picked over and recreated through some admittedly innovative and impactful staging - a carpet of torn pages from the book being one of my favourite images. However, by replaying the darkest moments of Sassall’s life so thoroughly, mining them for every nugget of drama, the play feels, at points, almost like a character assassination.

In its Fringe programme entry, A Fortunate Man promises to explore and expand on what it calls 'one of the most important books about medical practice' in order to 'take the pulse of GP practice then and now, continuing the conversation in the 70th year of the NHS'. By digging into Sassall's later life and later death, the show certainly succeeds in expanding on its source text. However, by making this the overwhelming focus, they fail to explore what makes the original book an inspiration to GPs today or to look at its relevance to modern practice.

The book A Fortunate Man is a snapshot of a human being of great depths, few of which showed themself on the surface. The play A Fortunate Man is, by contrast, largely stylish surface but lacking the depth to back it up.

Reviews by Tom King

Underbelly, Cowgate

Lucy Farrett: Lois

★★★★
Underbelly, Cowgate

She Sells Sea Shells

★★★★
Summerhall

A Fortunate Man

★★★
Underbelly, Cowgate

The Cat's Mother

★★★
The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4

Phill Jupitus: Sassy Knack

★★★★
Traverse Theatre

Nigel Slater’s Toast

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Fifty years ago, writer John Berger and photographer Jean Mohr followed the working life of a country doctor, for what went on to become one of the most important books about medical practice. Today, New Perspectives collaborates with theatre-maker Michael Pinchbeck to explore and expand on this fascinating work, setting it against verbatim interviews with doctors today. This striking mixed media performance takes the pulse of GP practice then and now, continuing the conversation in the 70th year of the NHS. 'Michael Pinchbeck is a terrific theatre maker' (Guardian).

Most Popular See More

Mamma Mia!

From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £37.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets