An Enemy of the People
Reviewed – 10th January 2019
“a very difficult play which Willmott’s ambitious adaptation struggles to realise”
To be an ‘enemy of the people’ is a loaded term, one dragging along with it a history of censorship and autocratic rule. It is a threat, and one that Arthur Miller chose to employ in order to explore what might happen when the truth comes up against the will of the majority. An Enemy of the People was first adapted by Miller from a play by Ibsen and has now been updated by Phil Willmott who has placed the story in Trump’s America. In a world of post-truth and populism, this may seem like a close fit but the text itself seems unbending in this update, not lending itself to an easy parallel with the absurdity of Trump’s politics.
This production finds the intellectual Dr Stockmann fighting to save an impoverished provincial American town from building a new spa whose springs are polluted. The town, eager to see some prosperity, slowly turn against the well respected doctor, treating his scientific assessment, his facts, into fiction. Pitted against him stands Mayor Stockmann, his sister and unscrupulous career politician.
Dr Stockmann and Mayor Stockmann, however, seem to struggle to live in the same era: the mayor comes across as a 21st century corporate populist while her brother embodies a conscientious man from the 19th century, ignorant of the political dangers he puts himself in because of his pursuit of truth. It is difficult for the other characters to negotiate the space between these two wildly different positions. It becomes a play in which characters embody their political views with zeal rather than conviction.
The cast, made up of refreshingly mixed ages, generally holds the show well, though some of the American accents could have been a little tighter. Mary Stewart plays Mayor Stockmann as a woman for the first time, an excellent move which Stewart delivers with precision and charm. Jed Shardlow also delivers a convincing torn radical newspaper editer, Hovstad.
As ever, the Union Theatre’s simple but evocative staging (Jonny Rust and Justin Williams) works well to turn a small revolving platform into a construction site. The simplicity of the staging, however, seemed to leave the actors constricted in terms of movement. Some clearer physical choices, or chairs, were needed.
This is a very difficult play which Willmott’s ambitious adaptation struggles to realise. The battle between tyranny and truth alone makes for a stilted drama that misses the opportunity to explore the subtleties of politics becoming very personal. The parallels with Trump’s America do make the play very relevant but a Brexit boggled UK audience, might find it tricky to relate to the characters, not least because a political debate of this sort would be postponed until after Christmas.
Reviewed by Tatjana Damjanovic
Photography by Scott Rylander
An Enemy of the People
Union Theatre until 2nd February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Midnight In Manhattan
Reviewed – 15th November 2018
“Newham and the rest of the production team have serviced these plays well. They are just right and never overdone”
Hidden in plain sight in an alleyway off Hampstead’s High Street, Pentameters Theatre takes its charming home, where it has lived for fifty years. Old photos of historic theatrical greats pave the walls; nooks and crannies are filled with books and records; and the seats in the front row are an assortment of armchairs. The venue itself is as much a part of the action as what takes place on its oblong-ish stage. I was welcomed and shown to my seat by founder Léonie Scott-Matthews. It felt like to be in the theatre was to be a part of a secret party of authentic live art devotees. I was rather captivated by it all before the show had even begun.
To celebrate their fiftieth anniversary, Pentameters are working their way through rather beautiful stagings of Tennessee Williams’ early one-act plays, which he produced with amazing frequency and facility. Midnight in Manhattan transports the audience to New York, to three unhappy and cursed marital and extramarital situations. Theatrical readings of two of Williams’ poems aptly punctuate the drama.
Subtle jazz selected by Sound Designer Lee Ryda created a seamless through line as one piece moved to the next. Godfrey Old’s set used the space effectively, creating a bedroom and a living area simply but distinctly. Attention to detail, such as the labels on the bottles either being removed or in period, would have made the design great. Each central woman in each play wore a silk dressing gown, which was a lovely touch. Old’s hand-drawn publicity design is perfectly in keeping with Williams’ style: reflective of reality, yet slightly dreamlike. Ollie Edwards’ lighting design was simple and effective, but a lamp or other form of onstage light would have added a further layer of intimacy.
Every Twenty Minutes has a sardonic humour, which Andrea Milton-Furtlotti and Richard Stephenson Winter played very well, by preserving the text’s genius depressing sincerity. However, to mount the irritable tension between the couple, silence between retorts could have been used more effectively, to justify the Woman’s sudden outburst at the Man. Milton-Furlotti, in a difficult role as the sidelined wife, fleshed out her performance by avoiding being too pathetic, which kept the tennis match with her husband more interesting. Ava Amande in The Pink Bedroom was the perfect balance of haughty and tragic.
Director Séamus Newham’s choice to double up the Man in Every Twenty Minutes with the Man in The Pink Bedroom and Joe Cartwright in The Fat Man’s Wife works very well, as this allows the texts to interrelate, and their poignancy to hit home. Therefore, the tantalising offer to the audience is that Amande’s character is the lover of the Man in Every Twenty Minutes, as well as of the Man in The Pink Bedroom. The silent characters in one play are allowed to speak in the next. Stephenson Winter’s performance in all three is expertly odious – we love to hate him as the poor women in his life do. And David Angland as the Woman’s Younger Man in The Pink Bedroom and Jessica Boyde’s younger admirer, Dennis Merriwether in The Fat Man’s Wife, represents the possibility of a heavenly escape for these trapped women. That they can only escape by another man’s possession reminds the audience of just how trapped they are. Angland plays Dennis with youthful energy and just a hint of the tortured.
In terms of quality of writing, complexity of situation and length of duration, Williams certainly builds up to the final play in the trio, The Fat Man’s Wife. This is also the only play in the trio Midnight In Manhattan where the characters have names – they are allowed to grow to being more than archetypes and metaphors of unhappy predicaments. Jessica Boyde is utterly hypnotic. Her performance stands out in this strong company of five by its nuance and tenderness. There is a brilliant moment where her husband unclasps her dress, and it is clear that the spark in their relationship is long extinguished.
Newham and the rest of the production team have serviced these plays well. They are just right and never overdone. Overall attention to detail in the staging and more time for pause in the first two plays would have fully realised the precise tragedy of Williams’ writing. But I recommend Midnight in Manhattan with confidence, and Pentameters with a happy heart.
Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton
Midnight In Manhattan
Pentameters Theatre until 2nd December
Previously reviewed at this venue: