REVIEW: An Enemy of the People, Union Theatre

This production of the sharply relevant play features numerous dynamic performances,  ensuring the audience’s attention is never lost. 

(c)Scott Rylander.

In this era of ‘fake news’ and the constant protests at Donald Trump’s attitude to being President and the way in which he uses his power, this revival of Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play couldn’t have been better timed.

An Enemy of the People examines closely power and the pitfalls of challenging authority as seen through the eyes of one small town in America. Mayor Stockmann is planning on opening a new spa resort in Kirsten Falls – a resort she says that will bring wealth and prosperity to the town. But when Doctor Thomas Stockmann discovers a problem with the water supply and he suggests that the project should be stopped – things begin to unravel, particularly when the people of the town turn against him thanks to the mayor’s manipulation of the facts.

Phil Willmott’s dynamic and powerful production brilliantly highlights just how easy it is for people to be manipulated in order for those in authority to protect their reputation – captured in the scene when the newspaper decides not to print the Dr’s article about the problems with the water supply. While it has to be said it gets off to a slow start, the production really cranks up the tension beautifully to the point that by the twist towards the end, the audience is completely enthralled with what they are watching. You are never allowed to forget how close to events happening today this is.

Every scene makes a sharp impact as words are twisted and turned to suit people’s different motivations. This is perhaps more evident in the second act, where the Doctor is being attacked from all angles and numerous attempts to break his spirit and resolve to stand up for truth and freedom of speech take place. In fact, everything about this production is so emotionally engaging, you leave the theatre feeling angry (well this writer did) that this attitude as displayed by the Mayor throughout can still be identified with politicians and those in authority to this day.

It is a highly opinionated piece of drama that does require your full attention, with arguments being flung backwards and forwards that can be difficult in places to keep up with – but there is no denying the feistiness and passion behind not only the script but all of the cast performances as well.

David Mildon as Dr Thomas, effectively conveys the character’s gradual breakdown as the people of town come after him and his family – it is a solid and reliable performance that engages the audience’s attention. Meanwhile, Mary Stewart is wonderful as the immensely unlikable and manipulative Mayor – her charm a subtle way of underlying her threats and bullying if she doesn’t get her own way is beautifully performed, while Janaki Gerard and Jed Shardlow offer strong support as Petra and Hovstad respectively.

All in all, Phil Wilmott’s production of An Enemy of the People is a sharply insightful and raw piece of theatre to watch. A solid start to the Essential Classics Season at the Union Theatre.

By Emma Clarendon

An Enemy of the People continues to play at the Union Theatre until the 2nd February.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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