BWW Review: AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, Union Theatre
What fuels the screams of "Lock Her Up" and "Build The Wall" at Trump rallies? Is it hatred for one's political opponents? Is it fear of immigrants? Is it a sense that the screamers have been left behind because the same experts who always know best, always seem to profit at the poor bloody infantry's expense? Probably a bit of all three: alongside some old-school racism and much else.
In 1950, Arthur Miller (who knew a bit about amoral political opponents, being an outsider and swimming against the tide as an intellectual) adapted Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, which has now been updated by Phil Willmott to open his Essential Classics Season 2019. With a government shutdown underway in the USA and Brexit paralysing Parliament in the UK, it could hardly be more timely.
We're in rundown Kirsten Falls USA, which is about to open a spa resort that the mayor claims (sans evidence, natch) will make it a destination for travellers from all over the world - bringing their lovely dollars of course. But her brother, scientist Thomas Stockmann, has proof that the water is contaminated and wants the project stopped. Initially the local press back Stockmann, but soon flip-flop when the mob is whipped up by the Mayor, whose promise of a golden future is now threatened by microbes they can't see (they're not even mentioned in the Bible) and an expert with his own agenda.
The first act drags a little - the set up is so familiar (I was getting flashbacks to Jaws and episodes of Scooby Doo) - but things pick up at the mass meeting in which the Mayor (a feisty Mary Stewart) does not repeat Brutus's mistake at Caesar's funeral and allow Stockmann to speak. When he does get a word in edgeways, he's howled down.
David Mildon, ruddy of face with anxiety, physically crumples as Stockmann's world collapses around him - the Mayor has plenty of levers to pull and does so, ruthlessly. There's good support too from Mark Grindrod, whose Captain Horster acts as the voice of principle in pragmatic times.
Other parts feel a little underwritten - the press's change of heart seems almost instant and Stockmann's wife and daughter are given very little to do except look unhappy. The play also suffered from a little Press Night stiffness - something that will disappear later in the run - but it didn't help the suspension of disbelief already stretched by some wobbling American vowels.
Though one always makes allowances for fringe productions, this one felt like it needed a bit more money spent on props and set and a bit more time in rehearsal in order to convince fully. As it stands, the show doesn't quite live up to its arresting poster.
Photo Scott Rylander