Felix Hayes plays Ferdinand von Hebra in the West End transfer of Dr Semmelweis opening at the Harold Pinter Theatre on 11 July, with previews from 29 June, and running until Saturday 7 October.
Mark Rylance returns to the West End this summer in the critically acclaimed Dr Semmelweis which was originally developed by the National Theatre Studio and produced by Bristol Old Vic.
The play, in which Rylance reprises the title role, is written by Stephen Brown with Mark Rylance and is directed by Tom Morris. In a unique theatrical event, he and the cast are joined on stage by 10 ballet dancers and the Salome string Quartet.
You are Returning to Dr Semmelweis for its West End transfer, what can you tell us about the play?
We tell the story of Ignaz Semmelweis – a young doctor working in a maternity ward in 1840s Vienna who makes an astonishing discovery, the implications of which rock the established medical thinking.
He realised that something is carried on the hands of doctors from mother to mother – and that washing hands could prevent infection spreading – it seems so obvious now, but at the time it was a real revelation. The play tells the story of this discovery and the reaction against it through the eyes of the haunted Dr Semmelweis, who through his own passion, grief and idiosyncrasy fails to get the establishment to listen. It is a play about genius and politics and pride.
What was your first reaction when you read the script?
The play in some ways is a Who Done It? Who or what is causing these deaths? And for a modern reader we know who the killer is- the bacteria being carried on the hands- so it becomes about the why, not the who… A bit like Columbo. And I love Columbo. It is a real investigation into Dr Semmelweis – his mind, his drive.
It played a critically acclaimed run at Bristol Old Vic last year, how does it feel to be returning to the production for its West End transfer?
It is always a real delight to return to a play, particularly a new play, after some time away. Your thinking about the piece changes, as well as the piece itself! And playing at the Harold Pinter? A real treat.
You’re reprising the role of Ferdinand von Hebra, what are you enjoying most about the role, and what’s most challenging about it for you as an actor?
I play Ferdinand Von Hebra as a young student doctor and 15 years later as an experienced, been through it all, Professor – and that has its own challenge. But also thoroughly enjoyable. Ferdinand is perhaps the warm empathetic foil to Dr Semmelweis’ sharpness of thought – all good bedside manner as opposed to the sharpness of a dissecting scalpel and running the line between fool and foil is perhaps my favourite challenge.
Tell us a little more about what’s it’s like being joined on stage by 10 ballet dancers and the Salome string Quartet?
Being surrounded by movement and by live music that makes you vibrate is one of the unique and most joyful experiences, a theatre full of multiple disciplines all telling the same story, all playing the same theatrical note is a delight as a storyteller. Working with these astonishing artists is a real honour.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Dr Semmelweis?
This is a unique opportunity to catch an important story told by an incredible company of actors, dancers and musicians. It really is a piece of total theatre. Oh, and did I mention the astonishing central performance? Mark really is one to watch…