In AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, a contemporary adaptation/ imagining of Henrik Ibsen’s play of the same title, Dr Katherine Stockman lives in a tight-knit community – she’s woven into the fabric. One day she makes a disturbing discovery: the spa water for the wonderful new spa resort that is bringing a lot of new business to the town is contaminated. There has been traces of metal found in the water. Patients have come to her as the resort’s wellness officer with large rashes on their bodies.
The local community needs to know. Katherine makes it her business to tell them. But at every turn she finds people who want the information suppressed. Local businesses, the editor of the local paper, the town’s mayor, who it just so happens to be her brother. They don’t want to know because it will cost too much money and time to fix the situation. And the Spa resort is bringing a lot of business to the town. Katherine reveals her findings and comes up against a lot of opposition. Will she continue with her crusade, or will she cave in to the pressure just to have a more manageable life?!
First thoughts. It is easy to place this play’s narrative. It is like Silkwood or Erin Brockovich or even our own Katherine Thompson’s Diving For Pearls…The main character is a whistleblower on a mission to get an unpopular truth out at great personal cost.
As I watched this play unravel on stage I thought of the late American playwright Moss Hart’s famous aphorism that most stories can be described this way..’you get your main character up a tree, then you start throwing rocks at them and the end part is where you either leave the protagonist up the tree or you get them down again’.
The play sees a lot of ‘rocks’ are thrown at Katherine. Why even her grandfather gets in on the act. He is the owner of a local saw mill and Katherine suspects that the mill may be responsible for the contamination of the water supply after a recent flood. She tells her grandfather Morten this and the payback she receives is that Morten threatens to disinherit her daughter if she doesn’t stop her crusade.
Kate Mulvany is great as the feisty, strong willed Dr Katherine Stockman. She performed with a lot of passion and intensity at her best at the start of the second half when she led a protest held at a community hall with the help of her daughter. In an inspired production- director Anne Louise Sarks– touch the audience became the audience at the community hall and some of the other characters in the play took positions within the audience and around the theatre.
Nikita Waldron plays her good natured, assertive, very loyal daughter, Petra, who despite a lot of pressure gets behind her mother one hundred percent.
Catherine Davies plays Katherine’s very bright cleaner Randine who takes in everything around her. Randine is the most down to earth character in the play, even bringing Katherine down a notch when she is at her most zealous, bringing to her attention what is happening about the working class, the most dispossessed in society.
It is always good to see Peter Carroll on stage. Carroll is well cast as Katherine’s gruff, manipulative grandfather who doesn’t appreciate the stance his granddaughter has taken.
From the start it is established that there is tension in the relationship between Dr Stockman and her brother Peter, the town’s Mayor, played by Leon Ford. Ford plays his character well, he does not trust his sister, he can’t control her, and for much of the play is in an agitated state just wants the problems to go away.
Steve Le Marquand convincingly plays Hovstad, the ambitious, two faced editor of the local newspaper, the Sentinel. Hovstad wants to be a big player in the town and is always trying to work out the best way he can get there and isn’t too worried about who he hurts to get there.
Charles Wu plays Billing, on staff at the Sentinel, who initially comes across as quite easy going and passive but is actually quite aggressive.
Kenneth Moraleda plays Astaksen, the shifty, over the top, effusive head of the local Chamber of Commerce who makes sure he gets involved in everyone’s business.
Stefan Gregory’s soundscape is very edgy and is well integrated into the narrative, cueing some of the play’s most dramatic scenes.
Mel Page’s costume design is very effective. Page’s set design features a glassed in rectangular box set (the actors are well miked) which works as mainly Dr Stockman’s living room, but also as a spa room.
I enjoyed this production a lot. It especially came into its own in the Second Act. I thought it was very powerful the way that the audience became immersed in the world as if a real drama was happening in front of our eyes, asking us what we would we do is confronted by a similarly difficult situation. Even clippings showing her patients rashes were passed around the audience by Katherine’s daughter to get our reaction.
The play had a strongly feminist discourse. Ibsen’s original main character was a man and the adaptor/playwright Melissa Reeves has made a very deliberate choice to make the character a woman and depicts the very rough and shabby treatment she gets because she is a woman.
Recommended, AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE by Melissa Reeves after Henrik Ibsen is playing upstairs at Belvoir Street Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, until 4 November, 2018.