"Politically and socially relevant production"
by Alan Ward for remotegoat on 10/01/19

This is a play with valuable currency in today’s political, social and economic climates. A town’s doctor makes a discovery with concerning implications for the local economy, and this pits him against authority (the mayor, his own sister) and the press.

An Enemy of the People was adapted in the 1950s by Arthur Miller from the 1882 original by Henrik Ibsen. With this production, a little more adaptation takes place to bring the play crashing up to date. The mayor is female, a welcome change to a play that would otherwise be unnecessarily dominated by men. More significantly though, this production is set in present-day America. Instead of papers being passed about, they’re zipped by email on smartphones; a “Make America Great Again” hat features; at various points an off-stage crowd chants “USA, USA”. These tweaks feel heavy handed in highlighting the modern-day relevance of a play that would have had it anyway.

Amongst the cast, David Mildon as Dr Thomas Stockmann brings some tender moments of zestful naivety to the character. Ibsen himself said he wasn’t sure if the play was a comedy or a drama, and that’s a challenging line for the cast to tread, even after the script’s treatment by Miller in the 50s. That said, Mary Stewart as Mayor Stockmann takes on the role of the snaky politician without overdoing it.

The set – a partially completed timber frame on a building site – provides a suitable space for the action to take place and a constant reminder that the ambitions of this fictional town are much the same as any in real life: constant growth and ongoing development. The sound design sticks to the American theme but the music doesn’t always pass without notice; this comes back to the slightly wildcard transatlantic transplant.

The play asks big questions, and according to the promotional material this is its first professional London outing for more than 30 years. It’s much more than an interest piece for fans or students of Ibsen and Miller. An Enemy of the People is timely in its examination of what constitutes the public interest, and formulates a stark warning about the intentions of those with the loudest voices and most visible platforms from which to speak.

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