BWW Review: UN ENNEMI DU PEUPLE at Grand Théâtre
There are some things that just work better in certain languages. Does an opera get extra points if the performers sing in Italian? Of course not. But it does add to the general operatic vibe. Do posh characters need an upper-class British accent? Certainly not. But this particular way of speaking has an historical weight, that is undeniably associated with wealth and Victorian virtue. Is France the sole cradle of civilized revolutionaries? Not really, but you can't deny how well a passionate political discussion sounds in French.
So when you get a play like An Enemy of the People, with all its deep sociological reflections, you know that this language will make it work better than any other. Henrik Ibsen might have written it in the late 19th century, but it remains just as relevant today. The story takes place in a small town in Norway, where much of the regional economy has close ties to a local spa. When Dr Tomas Stockmann (Nicolas Bouchaud) discovers that the waters are contaminated, he decides to take immediate action and share the news with his fellow citizens. Apparently committed to his cause are Hovstad (Sharif Andoura), the editor-in-chief of the town's newspaper, and Aslaksen (Eric Guérin), a respected figure with a significant amount of power in the area.
Despite this solid support, the doctor's commitment to the truth has a toll on his family. While his daughter Petra (Jeanne Lepers) has no problem standing by her father, his wife Katrine (Nadia Vonderheyden) has a more cautious reaction to the idea of going against the mayor. She recognizes that this matter is particularly delicate, since the elected official is no other than Thomas's brother Peter (Vincent Guédon). Once Peter learns about the investigation and imminent disclosure to the public, he reaches out to Hovstad and Aslaksen with the intention of dissuading them. Sadly for Dr Stockmann, his brother's efforts are successful, leaving him as sole defender of the truth at the town's meeting.
The pacing of the narrative and the development of the characters are both pretty much flawless. Although Tomas Stockmann has the most prominent part, time is very well split between the different characters, something perhaps aided by the important role almost everyone plays in the progression of the plot. We usually like to break down our analysis by actors, but this truly felt like listening to a single voice, like the collective effort of a great cast, that managed to make a well-written story flow organically from the stage to the audience. This accomplishment should not be understated, since it is increasingly common to have the actors interact with a couple of spectators, or walk among the public in an effort to further connect with those watching. But An Enemy of the People brought this approach to a different level, getting a genuine and active reaction from the audience, something that is especially rare in Luxembourg.
The best moment of the show was, without much doubt, Bouchaud's epic roaring speech, where the announcement of the news about the contaminated water soon turns into an emphatic reflection about the passive nature of the general public. The whole town meeting scene is quite formidable, but Bouchaud's rant is simply its own thing. The passion of the speech and the way that the actor breaks the forth wall to better prove his point is just excellent. And, again, we can think of no other language that could have made this moment as great.
The only things that could perhaps be rethought are the length of the play, which loses some steam after Stockmann's speech, and the use of microphones. We are not major fans of mics in theatre, but sometimes either we go for them, or we must avoid large venues. This was the first time we watched a theatre play in the Grand Salle of the Grand Théâtre, a place that can welcome 900 people. For this kind of show, we cannot imagine someone in the backrow having the same experience as someone in the middle or front.
Congratulations to everyone involved and please come back again.
Image credit: Jean-Louis Fernandez
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