Pros: A play so relevant to recent times it is hard not to enjoy.
Cons: Some weak performances fail to engage with the larger story.
Two years ago I saw a production of Hedda Gabler performed by the Tower Theatre Company, but this was before my reviewing days. I was glad therefore for the opportunity to join them again this year with another Ibsen play, An Enemy of the People, at Theatro Technis. Much can be said for the warm welcome offered by the company and the theatre; an usher delighted in telling me she has followed Tower Theatre for fifty years and loves every minute. Theatro Technis provides an unashamedly bare bones theatre, and we were welcomed into the space with atmospheric folk music.
In An Enemy of the People a small town, famous for its convalescent baths, was presented to us in a series of small spaces. Michael Bettell’s charming set immediately took us into the home of our protagonist, Dr. Thomas Stockmann, wherein a small dinner is set up in anticipation. The feeling of family and home was present even before any words were spoken. Little did we know that the set was versatile enough to move us convincingly from house, to office and speaking hall. The problem that wasn’t solved, however, was that such a shallow, wide space didn’t leave those on stage much choice but to gather in a fairly straight line which, at times, left my neck wondering if I had been following a tennis match from side to side.
Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new version of this play breathes modern language into an old text, proving that Ibsen’s work remains a contemporary relatable story. Dr. Stockmann is a whistleblower, a brother, a husband and a father. An Enemy of the People sees him torn between these roles. He discovers the beloved baths of his town, the townspeople’s major source of income and pride, are toxic, and his standing as a doctor and moral compass compels him to speak out.
James Keene’s Dr. Stockman was engaging when animated, but in a play with a strong offstage impetus he sometimes failed to convey the gravity of the situation unfolding in his home town. His biggest support (that is, both Dr. Stockman’s and James Keene’s) was Jill Ruane as Catherine Stockman, his devout wife. Even in the quietest moments her performance was stand-out, and one moment of emotional breakdown was particularly poignant. There are other convincing performances among the cast worthy of note, such as Billing (Jonathon Cooper) and the kind Horster (Bill Boyd). I observed the finesse that could be found in the quietly dramatic moments of the play didn’t shine through in the more cleverly written characters. The townspeople that appeared in the second half fell short of either amusing or rousing (I wasn’t sure which they should have been) but they did provide some welcome noise in a very long scene.
Yes, some performances fell short of the mark, but it was a very welcome and relevant performance of An Enemy of the People. Issues of whistleblowing, censorship and the acceptance of truths from those in power are continuously brought to light, and the bearing to current events and the recent past was not lost on the audience. An admirable performance of a complex tale, I did leave feeling empowered; at the finish, Dr. Stockman’s visionary eyes shone with purpose.
Author: Henrik Ibsen
Adaptation: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Director: Ian Hoare
Production Company: Tower Theatre Company
Booking Until: 17 June 2017
Box Office: 020 7387 6617
Booking Link: http://www.towertheatre.org.uk/boxo.htm