AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
by Henrik Ibsen version by Florian Borchmeyer.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 28 September 2014.
Wed-Sat 7.45pm Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7638 8891.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 September.
Fresh urgency and vitality in a remarkably perceptive production.
At the hands of director Thomas Ostermeier and Berlin’s Schaubuhne company, Henrik Ibsen’s play about a principled individual set against a self-interested, fickle society, pitting science against ignorance, is radically adapted, yet also revealed with fresh energy.
Ostermeier’s modernised Hedda Gabler, with its devastating ending, was a major success of the Barbican’s ever-adventurous theatre programme a few years ago. The shocks with Enemy come from the start. Yet everything sets-up resonances between the playwright and modern society; Ibsen the classic, Ibsen the Norwegian, is also Ibsen our contemporary.
Christoph Gowenda’s Stockmann, with his leather-jacket and untidy beard, is a graduate of the new informality; his councillor brother, grey-suited and neatly-pressed as Alistair Darling at a referendum debate (and the Scottish vote made its appearance), responds with embarrassed awkwardness to Thomas’s enthusiastic embrace.
Ibsen’s picture of a doctor enjoying family life shifts to moments of parenthood as their baby cries – family life has pressures as well as joys. And the personal affections that come under pressure when the dispute over the spa town’s new baths splits truth from convenient cover-ups is redefined ingeniously as the younger people’s music combo disintegrates amid disharmony.
Though the line about the strong being lonely disappears, the point’s made by the excision of Stockmann’s two firm supporters his daughter and a sea-captain. And as life becomes clearly impossible the end is silence, rather than the high hopes for a new life elsewhere Ibsen could still suppose.
The seamless, invigorating, never tedious action shows the setting degrade as it moves between scenes, to the mess of a public hall where Stockmann tries to tell the townspeople inconvenient truths as heckles become missiles, then finally his home under attack.
But it’s the meeting scene where Ostermeier’s boldest. Not just in allowing the new speech Florian Borchmeyer gives Stockmann to lead to an audience debate (hence the Scottish referendum on opening night in London). But in allowing the sympathy Ibsen’s protagonist creates in the audience to be immediately undercut by his subsequent dictatorial ravings. For Ostermeier sees Stockmann in the round and perceives the complex heart of Ibsen’s drama.
Dr Stockmann: Christoph Gowenda.
Council Member: Ingo Hulsmann.
Mrs Stockmann: Eva Meckboch.
Hovstad: Renato Schuch.
Aslaksen: David Ruland.
Billing: Moritz Gottwold.
Morten Kiil: Thomas Bading.
Director: Thomas Ostermeier.
Designer: Jan Poppelbaum.
Lighting: Erich Schneider.
Music: Malte Beckenbach, Daniel Freitag.
Wall painting: Katherina Zlemko.
Costume: Nina Wetzel.
Dramaturg: Florian Borchmeyer.