(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/25.)
Having overcome his indifference to Shaw, Nicholas Hytner has now made the old boy a regular part of the National repertory. Once again the decision pays off handsomely, in a rich revival by a young director, Nadia Fall, of a play from 1906 that combines all Shaw's musicality with a withering assault on the dangers of privatised medical practice.
As always, Shaw is deceptive. The dilemma of the title is deliberately artificial: it boils down to whether Sir Colenso Ridgeon, a fashionable surgeon who has discovered a new TB inoculation, should save the life of a corrupt artistic genius, Louis Dubedat, or an irreproachably honest mediocrity. What complicates the issue is that Ridgeon is in love with Dubedat's wife. Shaw uses this as a peg to attack the medical profession's presumption of priestly impartiality and the incompetence of Ridgeon's colleagues, as well as to explore, in the shape of Jennifer Dubedat, the tenacity of romantic love.