An Enemy of the People

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2011

reviews

John Miller

at 09:59 on 2nd Nov 2011

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An Enemy of the People transcends both time and space providing a universal criticism of societal retrenchment and its impact on idealism. Written in 1882 and subsequently translated by Arthur Miller in the 1950’s, the play is not lost on this generation of theatre attendees as it explores the intricacies of truth, ideas, and time through the lenses of society, community, and family. Ibsen well-develops both the classes and the interests that ultimately determine the direction of society for good or for bad. The simultaneous development of these social forces, their friction, and their eventual collusion is startlingly close to reality. As the play develops, viewers suddenly realize that the small, intentionally nameless town is their town and their society.

The plot follows a young idealist, Doctor Stockmann (Tom Russell), who is the health and safety officer at the “natural” spa, the economic life-blood of an otherwise unremarkable town. As the town physician, he notices a pattern of illnesses which can only be attributed to swimming in and consumption of the spa waters. He soon discovers that the water is toxic, polluted by his own father-in-law’s (Stephen Bailey) tannery. Believing that he is the champion of the town, Stockmann quickly informs the major power players, who include his brother, Major (Quentin Beroud), who soon becomes the human antagonist and manipulator of the mass. Stockmann, convinced by the power of the truth and the scientific basis of his evidence soon runs into the juggernaut of political and economic retrenchment as he discovers that idealism and righteousness are merely a façade for the status-quo.

Tom Russell delivers an excellent performance as Stockmann, a dynamic and difficult character who travels across the gamut of experiences from naivety and discovery to catharsis and isolation. His performance was only surpassed by his brotherly antagonist, Major, played by Quentin Beroud. While Stockmann is the main character, the performance of Beroud predominates from subtle finger curling to insidious snarls. The style and themes require such a powerful contrast between protagonist and antagonist and Beroud ensures that this exists. The tension is real. As the foil and daughter of Stockmann, Rozzi Nicholson-Leiley with her assertiveness and almost natural emotion overpowers the performance of Mairin O’Hagan. This dichotomy between mother (pragmatist) and daughter (idealist) is weakened only by the unrealistic emotion and sometimes awkward delivery of the former. Covering the spectrum of the oppositional left, Billing (Sam Sloman), Hovstad (Ned Carpenter), and Aslaksen (Harry Baker) deliver excellent supporting performances, which provide the foundation of the social criticism. In a unique twist, the Crowd is introduced as a chorus-like body and allows for the interpretation of the work as a tragedy. Their embeddedness within the audience, their jeers, and their mob-like chants force the audience into the mindset of the mob. This mechanism challenges the idealism that we each believe is within us.

“The strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone.” The same can be said for this excellent student-production. The strongest plays, presented by the strongest cast and crew, stand alone at the ADC.

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Will Midgley

at 09:59 on 2nd Nov 2011

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This modern translation of one of Ibsen’s more popular plays is staged incredibly well by the ADC. The original score by Jeff Carpenter adds to the drama of the downfall of a once influential and respected doctor (Doctor Thomas Stockmann – Tom Russell) in a fictional Norwegian spa town, to an ostracised Enemy of the People. This dramatic downturn is caused by Stockmann’s thirst for a “fantastic explosion” of the truth about the town’s baths and their toxic nature.

Quentin Beroud superbly energises the demon of the piece, Peter Stockmann (the doctor’s brother). By the end of the play the audience is convinced of the depths to which he will go to protect his reputation and that of the Baths Committee. His opposite number in Russell is equally compelling, the confrontational scenes between the two brothers standing out as particularly engaging.

Dr. Stockmann’s daughter, Petra, is caught in the crossfire of these arguments, and Rozzi Nicholson-Leiley conveys her righteous anger well, reacting to the conflict with conviction and truly bringing the character to life. Katherine, Stockmann’s wife, (Mairin O’Hagen), sticks by her husband to the bitter end. At times O’Hagen struggles to convince, with an especially unpersuasive change of heart when the local paper refuses to print Dr. Stockmann’s inflammatory report on the baths.

The director’s use of the entire depth of the stage was refreshing. During the print room scene the audience can see typesetters working away busily behind the glass doors of the office, a creative use of the space by the production team which adds an effective touch to several scenes.

Aslaksen the publisher (an on-form Harry Baker) consistently reminds the audience (and anyone who’ll listen) of his catch cry (“restraint”), and is a more than competent sidekick to the ever-wily Hovstad (Ned Carpenter). Carpenter’s portrayal is somewhat diluted by the rather uncompelling performance of Sam Sloman as Billing, the publisher’s sidekick.

The spectacular and heart-breaking downfall of the doctor is staged publicly in the town hall, in front of a crowd of hecklers (including the town drunk). The crowd form a pivotal part of this scene, showing the turning of public sentiment away from the doctor, but at times I found them intrusive and unwittingly pulling focus away from the doctor’s anti-majority rhetoric, especially at such a crucial point in the plot. The crowd’s chanting of “an enemy of the people!” after the lights went out was particularly powerful.

The ever-supportive Captain Horster (Ben Pope) sticks by the doctor, offering his family passage to America. For a first-time performance at the ADC, Pope holds his own, though the character lacks the vim one might associate with the dogged supporter of a pariah of the community.

Stephen Bailey plays Morten Kill (affectionately known as ‘Badger’), Katherine’s father, who tries to manipulate Thomas into recanting his criticism of the baths in return for a large inheritance for Thomas’ family. Unfortunately Bailey fails to convey the advanced years of the patriarch convincingly, abandoning his cane at will, and lacking the gravitas of a man who “put [his] tannery on the map”.

This vivid tale is well presented and its characters well portrayed; compelling acting and effective technical aspects combine to make it an outstanding production. In a world where the majority are trying to make themselves heard, this thought-provoking play is definitely worth seeing.

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