Enemy of the People Review
Henrik Ibsen is having a renaissance in the theatre at the moment. A Doll’s House has been adapted by Tanika Gupta for the Lyric Hammersmith, re-imagined in 1879 Calcutta, Peer Gynt has been reworked into Peter Gynt by David Hare for the National Theatre and Rosmersholm, adapted by Duncan Macmillan, has enjoyed a successful run at The Duke of York Theatre. This month, after an anticipated wait, the Nottingham Playhouse presents its version of Enemy of the People.
Directed by Adam Penford and adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Enemy of the People tackles a political and social situation which has great relevance to our society today. The inevitability of lies outweighing the truth via fake news, the imbalance of power between the classes and the delicate danger of mob mentality are all explored within this play and it makes for very interesting and sometimes disturbing viewing.
Alex Kingston, of Doctor Who fame and recently seen in ITV’s The Widow, plays Dr Stockman, the protagonist who resides with her family in the Norwegian town of Skien. Her brother, played by Malcom Sinclair, is the mayor of the spa town and has a vested interest in the baths which provide the main source of income for its residents. When Kingston reveals that the baths are contaminated and the whole toxic system needs replacing, instead of receiving the thanks she believes she deserves, all hell breaks loose and the town turn on her in a vitriolic display of dismay and fear for their livelihoods.
The character of Dr Stockman was originally written as a man but the portrayal of this character by a female provides another layer of politics to the narrative. Kingston manages however to play her part without too many gender references. There is one scene between herself and the editor of the local newspaper where they discuss the misogyny of certain members of the council but on the whole, I could imagine a man saying the same lines as the female version and them still making sense. Kingston could have gone too far either way by making her character too feminine or too masculine but she nails it by playing the character instead of the gender.
Sinclair’s ability to remain confidently calm in the face of Kingston’s enthusiastic ranting provides a wonderful relationship between the opposed siblings. It also underlines how hard those who have truth on their side often have to shout to be heard above the solid wall of power and influence which in many cases operate on deception and dishonesty. The smattering of comedic moments, often delivered by Sinclair and Tim Samuels who plays the local newspaper printer, are much appreciated in amongst the sometimes heavy-going nature of the narrative.
The set was largely bleak, the only light and comfort coming from the Stockman’s home which looked like a page from a Sostrene Grene catalogue. The cleanliness and brightness of their home contrasted nicely with the grubby outdoors highlighting the idea of truth vs lies and the overall atmosphere of the setting depicted the physical murkiness of the contaminated waters but also the toxic nature of the townspeople.
A thought provoking and intriguing piece of theatre which has been brought into the twenty-first century from its origins in the late 1800’s by a talented cast and an imaginative director.
A Review of An Enemy of the People
Power and corruption are continuous bedfellows?
Now, where do we know that from…?
In writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s and director Adam Penford’s updated version, Dr. Thomas Stockmann becomes Dr. Theresa Stockmann, and Alex Kingston attacks the role with fervour, just as she attacks the shrewdness and deviance of her brother (Malcolm Sinclair), who just so happens to be the ‘powers-that-be’.
As an audience, we are lulled into relaxation with a forest backdrop so bountiful with pines that we can almost smell them, accompanied by soothing, blue, spa-like lighting. This tranquillity is soon pierced by music unhinging the conversation, reminding us not to get too comfortable.
This play provides two real shockers. The first being the head of local newspapers’ Hovstad’s (Emma Pallant) swift side-switching. She initially favours Stockmann’s holy quest for truth, in order to bring down the town’s governance, but she soon transfers to the Mayor’s calculating cover-up when she realises that the truth costs (literally). The second is the town meeting scene which rumbles on, constantly on the brink of explosion. Stockmann battles on, assaulted by pouring rain and garish glow of moonlight, digging her own grave, alienating and angering the already impassioned and indignant working-class townspeople. As an audience member, I have staunchly been on her side, but it is at this point where I begin to grapple with my feelings. I can’t help but feel personally insulted (such is the power of Kingston’s performance) as Stockmann becomes engulfed in her own tirade, accusing the townsfolk of small-mindedness and stating that they should be exterminated! The good doctor is appalled that they have had the audacity to allow their own thoughts to be distorted by the manipulator whom she knows all too well.
This play illuminates the stark reality that those who search for truth stand alone, and how issues of morality rarely lack complexity. We are served more questions than answers. Yet another question is, do these queries make us feel dismal, or grant catharsis? During this current time of political stupidity, with unpalpable truths doubtlessly abound below power’s all too slimly surface, Nottingham Playhouse’s An Enemy of the People besieges us with the final, internal, uncomfortable questions – do we, in our current society, really know the facts? And do we want to know them?
Grace Elizabeth May
Enemy of the People vs People of the Enemy
‘Who forms the majority? The wise or the foolish?’
In the wake of today’s climate activist vs capitalist tension, Ibsen’s Enemy of the People stands as relevant as ever. Lenkiewicz’s writing and Penford’s direction moulds the work of 19th C realism into a tense dissection of the 21st century’s relationship with power, motivation and truth.
The play is dominated by an appropriate theme of fake news. A local GP, Dr Stockmann, discovers that the baths of her Norwegian spa town are contaminated. At first she is believed, but then she is hated as her brother, Mayor Mattsson, turns the towns people against her. The Mayor threatens the mob with recession, as the baths would be expensive to fix, but it is not a cost worthy of the hatred he stirs.
Alex Kingston (Dr Who fame) delivers a complex performance as Dr Stockmann. Lenkiewicz has re-gendered the role of Stockmann (Ibsen wrote the character a man, but she is here performed as a woman). This gives the role a striking maternal quality, deepening Stockmann’s motives and agency. Kingston thrives in portraying a modern woman’s struggle against selfishness and selflessness with deep and truthful conviction.
It is Kingston’s powerful performance, though, that carries the piece. At many points, it feels that the nuance and intricacies of an Ibsen play are lost in misdirection and clumsy acting. At times, Malcom Sinclair’s Mattsson is funny, but too funny and the warning and fear his character is supposed to hold is lost. The audience would cackle and boo, making his performance feel slightly pantomime. Other characters would overact their lines meaning that the thoughtful and precise dialogue could not be fully appreciated at points.
This slight flaw was highlighted in the heckling scene. Stockmann’s towns people have turned against her, so she makes one last speech to regain their trust. The scene takes place outside, in the rain, while an angry crowd leer and hail. The shouts combined with such stark pathetic fallacy feel all too obvious for Ibsen’s naturalism. The volume of the crowd and the water also just made it hard for the audience to understand lines being said which was a shame as it’s a crucial point of the play.
The aesthetics of the piece were spell-binding at times. Large’s design and Baumohl’s sound created a mysterious and dark setting, without losing touches of a believable modern-day life. The sound and setting were perfect for the transposition of an Ibsen script; the fog and dark lighting throughout created darkness and disturbance but is subtle enough, chiming with trendy Scandi drama (The Killing).
Overall the performance was triumphant. It delivered a tense atmosphere with clear moral argument that holds astounding relevance to today’s socio-political climate. The audience are left questioning. Would they stand as the enemy of the people or join the people of the enemy? Penford’s direction created a parable about the minority against the majority, making it a successful rendition of Ibsen’s moral theatre.
A Strong Woman really does stand alone
What is truly important to our so-called democracy?
Money? Honesty? The environment? …doing the right thing?
Notwithstanding the answer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s re-versioning of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People proves that against all odds: bravery, loyalty and self-respect can shine through even in the darkest of times. This message remains the same to the original and yet still applies to a modern-day audience, despite the two plays being centuries apart.
This is exactly what I admire yet loathe about the play.
Lenkiewicz has cleverly revived a traditional morality play into a relevant contemporary morality play, with having a strong resemblance to the issues at hand in Britain and the rest of the world today. It has been revitalised with conventional male parts being played by females. This is the case with the lead, the kids and with Hovstad. It was very interesting to see how little impact the husband Christopher Stockmann had on the story, which would usually have been the wife; this is not denying how great Deka Walmsley’s performance was. I really felt his innocence and helplessness as the tagalong to his wife.
Then, to see a lesbian encounter take place between Hovstad and Petra was completely unorthodox, but fresh and liberating as it gave more depth to both characters and makes a clear statement that times have really changed.
The number of females really adds a new meaning to the play as it empowers women yet reinforces the inequality that they still face today. Women cannot argue with a male superior without consequences, they are not always taken seriously, even when they play such an imperative and vital role in society, such as a doctor.
The use of comedy is truly exceptional. Especially with Malcolm Sinclair; his performance as Mayor Peter Mattsson really excelled! I found his mere presence to be hilarious. He truly brought to life a grumpy, old, stubborn man in the way he walked around pompously and strode the stage with such ignorance.
I genuinely detested him and immediately supported Dr. Teresa Stockmann, even before the sibling rivalry completely developed.
Alex Kingston, aka Teresa, really exemplified a great comedian in her performance too. At one point, she steals her brother’s suitcase, dances around the room and jumps on the chair taunting and mocking her brother, calling him ‘your worship’. But the hilarity really got me when she calls the briefcase ‘a symbol of what the fuck’; Alex has so much emphasis in the word ‘fuck’ which really made me laugh out loud. An applause is due for both Alex and the fabulous director Adam Penford. This was a perfect comedic and artistic decision.
This is a play that revamps the traditional and accentuates that: ‘The strongest woman is she who stands alone’.