Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People could have easily been adapted in the last couple of years as a, not at all subtle rebuke to the election of Donald Trump and Flint water scandal. Worryingly Miller’s adaptation was written in the 1950s and Ibsen’s original in 1882. Has nothing really changed?
Set in modern-day American Phil Willmot’s production sees a town called Kirstin Springs on the up, it is thriving and looking forward to the economic benefits this spa town will receive. Dr. Thomas Stockmann (David Mildon) has his doubts, the town’s people have been getting ill and after his own tests, he gets the external confirmation that the water is not fit for purpose and could be making the community ill.
What follows is a war on truth, on majority rule and the realisation that corruption is everywhere. His sister (Mary Stewart) is Mayor, stomping around town in her Republican Red outfits, the local newspaper’s editor and journalist Hovstad and Billing (Jed Shardlow and Angelo Leal) at first encourages his expose with the publisher Aslaksen being particularly enthusiastic but when it becomes apparent that the truth has a price Stockmann is backed into a corner, with only his sister in law Petra (Janaki Gerard) for support. Even his own wife Catherine (Emily Byrt) questions why he needs to be so vocal and put their lives, livelihood and place in the community at risk. An Enemy of the People asks its audience whether principles and honesty truly hold a value of everything else.
This production is full of strong performances, in the first half Byrt dominates as a concerned wife torn between her husband, her community and eventually her father, Morten (Darren Rushton) who exploits his wealth and power to put Dr Stockmann in an impossible position and Stewart as a woman juggling her commitments to her brother and commitments to the board as mayor and the slow build of community turning against one man feels all too real. We are all sick of experts after all. The line about the majority not being right because there is more of them feels timely as the US experiences a shutdown and the UK looks ahead to Brexit, all the result of democracy. Mildon as Stockmann gives an incredible and emotionally charged performance as the doctor who is unsure he has done the right thing. The supporting characters felt underwritten, whilst it is clear one journalist strives for a political career I wasn’t sure I understood what kept characters like Petra and Hovstad in a small town when they claimed to be such radicals and I would have liked to have got to know the Captain Horster (Mark Grindrod) character, a man who has travelled the world, who supports the doctor against the the crowds. It is a real shame if we don’t see this production transfer to a bigger space as this story will never be more timely, or sadly it will and we will see another relevant adaptation in 60 years’ time.
An Enemy of the People is on until 2nd February http://www.uniontheatre.biz/an-enemy-of-the-people.html