An Enemy of the People at Union Theatre
In an epoch of Trump and Brexit, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People – brilliantly adapted by Arthur Miller and made current by talented writer/director and multi-award winner Phil Willmott – could not be more apropos.
From Ibsen’s Norwegian setting to a small American town, Kirsten Falls, the narrative is classic: One person standing in opposition to public opinion. Corporate corruption hides dangerous pollution as scientist Dr Thomas Stockmann (David Mildon) seeks to expose his discovery of contamination in the water supply, but is countered by Mayor Stockmann (Mary Stewart) – his own sister – who incites a mob against him. What follows are a smear campaign, blackmail and the unravelling of the whistleblower’s life.
Not simplistically black or white, the narrative reveals the protagonist as humanly flawed, as his obsession and the ensuing onslaught of slander and attacks appear to affect his mental stability. A play in two acts, the first requires the viewer’s focus as, although excellent and relevant, it is moderately slow in pace. The second act, however, heartily makes up for it with ebullient action and emotion.
Direction by Willmott is stellar – reflected in the great performances. Mildon is first-rate as the imperious but well-meaning beleaguered crusader. Taking on a part originally intended for a man, Mary Stewart’s portrayal of the ferocious and ambitious Mayor is astutely effective. Mark Grindrod is admirable in his role as the sensible Captain Horster. Another who is shunned and harassed for going against the grain, school teacher Petra Stockmann is particularly savvily acted by Janaki Gerard.
With a simple, smartly styled set by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, an ambience of small-town political struggle is artfully conveyed. Hinting at the flag-waving nationalism of American conservatives, patriotic music – such as Springsteen’s Born in the USA – is played between scenes and as a finale.
A tale invoking the age old conflict between economics and humanity, greed and social welfare, whistleblower against institutional power, lone crusader defying public opinion, Wilmott’s version of Arthur Miller’s An Enemy of the People also provides a timely echo of the Trump era. A fascinating, thought-provoking work, it is well worth a viewing.
Photos: Scott Rylander
An Enemy of the People is at Union Theatre from 4th January until 2nd February 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.