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Review: Doctor in the House, Theatre Royal Newcastle

THERE were plenty of doctors in the house – well, fake ones – but not a heck of a lot of audience members on Monday night.

Emma Barton as Vera in Doctor in the House. Photo by Liza Marie Dawson

THERE were plenty of doctors in the house – well, fake ones – but not a heck of a lot of audience members on Monday night.

Maybe the bubble has burst on the Doctor phenomenon which spawned books and films and TV series through the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Former anaesthetist Richard Gordon started it with his comic book Doctor in the House, published in 1952 when the mere mention of underwear could buy you a laugh.

“Contains innuendo” was the warning masquerading as a come-on in the Theatre Royal summer programme. But in these less shockable times we are more likely to call a spade a spade.

This stage production is a funny old thing in both senses of the word, but leaning rather more to funny peculiar than funny hilarious.

We have to accept that a bunch of very grown-up male actors – led by Joe Pasquale, for goodness’ sake – are medical students divisible into two categories: sexually obsessed and sexually oppressed.

They live in a garishly furnished flat and, bizarrely, are subject to surprise visits from their forbidding superior, the surgeon Sir Lancelot (Robert Powell in an unlikely role), who threatens to perform an operation on the table.

Misadventures with women drive the slim plot with an early scene closing with a tableau of exposed underwear.

There’s the statuesque Vera (Emma Barton), who unfeasibly fancies marriage to Pasquale’s Tony Grimsdyke; there’s Ozzy, a loud and dim Aussie (Allison McKenzie); and there’s seemingly dull Janet (Rachel Baynton) who causes poor freshman Simon Sparrow (Phillip Langhorne) to get his knickers in a twist.

To its credit, the show acknowledges its period daftness with Pasquale working his socks off (pun intended) to get everyone through to the final curtain in some semblance of jollity.

He succeeds but I left with one burning question, prompted by a poster in that flat: was there really a film called Girl With An Itch?

There was. Released in 1958, it starred Kathy Marlowe and Robert Armstrong. As LP Hartley wrote: “The past is a foreign country...”

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