An Enemy of the People: Henrik Ibsen
Chichester Festival Theatre to May 21
Runs: 2h 15m, one interval
Tickets: 01243 781312
Review: Blair Hunter-Coleridge, May 10 2016
Ibsen realism, modern resonances abound
Returning to the theatre after a decade-long absence, Hugh Bonneville takes on the role of Dr Stockmann, chief medical officer of a popular town spa who turns whistle-blower after discovering the waters are poisoned.
In Howard Davies’ explosive production of Ibsen’s most political play, Stockmann must negotiate between a desire to do what is right and force the baths into closure and the dilapidating effect this could have on the local economy.
Bonneville, best known for his portrayal of Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham, cuts an imperious presence. Flawless throughout, the actor looks every inch the leading man as he more than justifies his return to the stage.
Particularly impressive are the stage design and technical team. Breaking a sometime preference for minimalism, the team kicks off the season with an authentic reproduction of a Victorian home, town hall and print shop, all with break-taking intricacy, while the addition of a real-life 30s shutter camera among an extensive prop collection was an inspired touch. Ibsen’s realism is alive and well.
Yet it’s important to stress that this production isn’t a period piece; for all the brass-buttoned blazers, bowler hats and comb-overs, there is a chilling relevancy about the issues it interrogates. Nowhere is this more salient than when the stage walls roll back for Act 4, the famous crowd scene, and where Davies’ and his crew do an excellent job of foregrounding the contemporary resonance. The director’s decision to pepper his community company amongst real audience members works well to blur the line between the stage and the seats, giving an urgency to such issues as pollution, free speech and the individual versus the majority. All of Chichester seems drawn in to the debate.
The evening is also enlivened by a brace of high-calibre supporting performances. Jonathan Cullen particularly excels, breathing fresh animus into the town printer Aslaksen. His insistence on “moderation, moderation” earns a wry chuckle at every outing.
Combine Cullen, Bonneville, the rest of the cast and the production team and the result may well be An Enemy of the People, but it is certainly a Friend to the Audience.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Billing: Michael Fox
Mrs Stockmann: Abigail Cruttenden
Peter Stockmann: William Gaminara
Hovstad: Adam James
Dr Tomas Stockmann: Hugh Bonneville
Captain Horster: Jim Creighton
Ejlif: Alfie Scott
Morten: Jack Taylor
Petra Stockmann: Alice Orr-Ewing
Morten Kil: Trevor Cooper
Aslaksen: Jonathan Cullen
Anders: Kieran Gough
Evenson: Alister Hoyle
Mr Vik: Alister Hoyle
Pettersen: Richard Pryal
Director: Howard Davies
Designer: Tim Hatley
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Music: Dominic Muldowney
Sound Designer: Mike Walker
Casting Director: Toby Whale
Assistant Director: Miranda Cromwell
Costume Supervisor: Rachel Woodhouse
Props Supervisor: Lizzie Frankl
Hair, Wigs and Make-up: Angela Cobbin