The actress chatted to LLLC about her current role in the revival of  An Enemy of the People at the Union Theatre. 

Janaki, what character are you playing in Arthur Miller’s ‘An Enemy of the People’? I’m playing Petra Kiil. She is the daughter of Morten Kiil and the sister of Catherine Stockman.  Petra is fearless and goes after everything she desires in the world around her. She fights for what she believes is right regardless of what forces oppose her, and she fights even harder for the people she loves.

What’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ about? The play is set in a small American town (present day). It follows Dr Thomas Stockmann, the community chief medical officer, as he discovers that the town’s main water source is contaminated. He pursues the problem to the higher authorities believing he’s doing the right thing. At first it seems as though everyone is on his side including the local press. However, things take a dramatic turn when he begins to discover the corruption within the town council led by own sister, the Mayor.

Ibsen first wrote ‘An Enemy of the People’ in 1882 and Arthur Miller adapted it in 1950.  How relevant is this play for today’s audiences?  Is “An Enemy” relevant today. Absolutely!  This production sees some scary parallels that are alive and thriving in our world today. The use of fake news and the fear of being cast as “The Other” are pushed to the extreme.

Since training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and then graduating from East 15’s MFA in 2018 you’ve had a varied career working on both sides of the Atlantic; you performed regularly with the Indian dance company Surati and was part of the original cast of “Yaki Yim Bamboo”, a new musical which premièred at The 13th Street Repertory Theatre.  Do you prefer musicals to plays and what is your favourite role so far? I really don’t have a preference, they both have their own unique attributes which makes them so different from one another that you can’t compare them. Off the top of my head, my favourite role in the USA was Tintinnabula in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. The show, the people, the dances, the costumes – it was such a fun experience!

What do you love most about working in New York’s Off-Broadway and Off-West End theatres? For me it’s the people you get to work with; for example, in this cast we have experienced professional actors from around the world. Also, in my experience so far, if you’re doing Off-Broadway or Off-West End you’re doing this project because you genuinely want to be in the space playing, developing, growing, learning and creating.

What are your favourite roles to date? I recently finished my training at East 15 and in our final production played the role of Medea. I had to humanise a woman who kills her children. The process was difficult at times, but I learnt so much from it and am extremely grateful for that experience. I think Petra will be added to my list of favourites too!

What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without? For me, it’s not an item. I can’t live without my closest friends. Over the last few years I’ve moved around a lot, but I’ve been very fortunate to meet wonderful kind people everywhere I’ve lived. Some are back in Australia, some in the USA, some are here. These people are my good luck charms.

Given the many varied things you’ve done, what would you like to do next? Film and TV is the next goal. I’m starting to plant the seeds, so let’s see what happens!

Tell everyone why they must see Arthur Miller’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Union Theatre – I think as a society we are not encouraged to think as individuals. Our production invites and encourages the audience to form their own opinion of what is going on in the story. Maybe it will encourage people to think for themselves and not adopt the herd mentality.

Janaki Gerard appears in Arthur Miller’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Union Theatre in Southwark until 2nd February.