Anne Hailes reviews: Enemy of the people

Enemy of the People
Henrik Ibsen
Schaubuhne Berlin Company

Grand opera House
Finishes tonight Saturday 25th October 2014

One more night and if you appreciate theatre in all its guises try to get along to the Opera House tonight for a somewhat unique experience. I say ‘somewhat’ because I don’t expect there are other nights like it.

The theme is ‘publish and be damned!’ as the Duke of Wellington said when
the courtesan Harriette Wilson threatened to publish his love letters. Our hero Dr. Stockmann wants to publish but he is damned.

This is the everyday story of country folk and variations on the theme crop up all the time, truth verses power and manipulation. Look no further than Northern Ireland.

We are in small Norwegian spa town that’s growing in fame and wealth as people flock to take the waters. They come, they are purged, they experience vomiting and diarrhea but surely that’s just the healing process. Or is it? Dr. Stockmann isn’t so sure so he has a sample of the water tested and discovers that the spa has become toxic due to industrial waste. It doesn’t help his decision to make this public that much of the poison is coming from his father-in-laws factory further up the river.

Then it begins. He talks to his friend at the newspaper, yes they will publish his article, the editor approves. The representatives of the town back him – until they have a think about the repercussions. One by one they turn their back on the Dr. and especially violent is his own brother the Mayor who almost brings Stockmann to his knees. But not before the young idealist causes chaos with his threats to disclose just how dangerous the situation is and so the theatre experience develops.

Eventually, Stockmann can’t keep quiet any longer and in desperation holds a public meeting, we the audience attend and he addresses us, firstly to plead for sense in exposing the situation but it soon becomes a rant about free speech, corruption, the haves and have nots and about suppression. We are encouraged to speak out and last night the audience did helped by the mayor, the newspaper man and the editor who joined us chivvying away at the argument although as Stocknann says, we didn’t cause a revolution with our comments! I think to make a worthwhile statement required a second viewing of the play which I should add is in German with surtitles hanging above the actors to one side of the stage.

Eventually the action descends into madness, attacks on our hero his wife and his home, then comes the temptation to benefit from the debacle by buying up worthless shares in the spa and rebuild for the future. He and his wife turn over the first page of the portfolio and the stage goes to black. We’re left wondering if corruption will engage the man who stood for truth.

It’s a play with many layers, many of the relevant to our society today, a thought provoking play two and a half hours long with no interval. The set is fantastic and the acting superb. This is grownup theatre. Those who left can’t be criticised, this is not everyone’s cup of tea but I think well worth the effort.

Check all Anne Hailes Belfast Times reviews here.

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Post Author: Belfast Times

1 thought on “Anne Hailes reviews: Enemy of the people

    Houston Marshall

    (October 25, 2014 - 5:31 pm)

    It sounds fascinating!

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