Life & Culture

An Enemy of the People: Question Time makeover for Ibsen’s classic play


Corruption issues: Matt Smith and Nigel Lindsay in An Enemy of the People Photo: Manuel Harlan

Duke of York’s Theatre | ★★★★

Reviewed  by  John Nathan

Henrik Ibsen’s whistle-blowing 1882 drama invariably brings to mind real life corruption in whichever period it is revived. Thomas Ostermeier’s adaptation first seen at Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre drags the play into the here and now with the help of Matt Smith’s Doctor Thomas Stockman.

He is married to Jessica Brown Findlay’s Katharina and the couple exude a transgressive cool as they end busy days with band practice. On keyboards is Shubham Saraf’s newspaper editor

Hovstad whose ambition of turning his paper into the spa town’s campaigning essential read has been somewhat faded.

But when Thomas’s suspicions that the spa (and font of the town’s new-found wealth) is polluted turns out to be true, Hovstat at last has a story on which to make a reputation as a journalist.

Enter reactionary forces – personified by Thomas’s conservative brother Peter who as mayor prefers to suppress the story in order save his career, the town’s reputation and the visitor income that goes with being a destination health spa. A little illness is surely a price worth paying.

Smith is on good form as Thomas. His incredulity that the health of the spa-going public should be sacrificed in order to keep the town’s coffers full builds inexorably to rage.

Hilton’s is the performance to watch out for, however. His suited Peter is every inch the smooth, ruthless politicking operator. He is opposite in every way to his morally driven employee and younger sibling Thomas who works as the spa’s health officer.

When outraged Thomas calls a meeting at the local town hall Ostermeier’s production reveals its risky USP. House lights come up and in a revolutionary rant that mostly sidesteps the spa’s pollution Thomas rails against the narcissism of our Amazon-buying, instant gratification and social-media obsessed lives.

Does anyone agree with him, asks a member of the cast. Tentatively a few hands are raised and in what could be a genuinely thrilling moment of audience participation microphones are made available to those who have grievances to air.

During this performance a couple complained that their income as teachers do not allow them to have a baby. A nurse whistle blew about how the underfunding of the NHS is costing lives. A young boy wondered if he had a future. But the hoped for articulate voice of leadership that goes with having an open mic never appeared. I was one of those who put my hand up before quickly realising I had no answers.

I suspect that Ibsen would have hated the production. It makes you think about one’s helplessness rather than the corruption of those in power. But that is instructive, if depressing, in its own way.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive