Nothing about this play is subtle, from the almost neon IKEA-advert set, to the bright strobe lighting which segues one act into another, Public Enemy doesn’t try to pretend. Translated from Ibsen’s original 1882 play, the drama here surrounds one man’s struggle to save a town from tarnish and embarrassment, whilst also potentially crippling it beyond repair.
Nick Fletcher plays an unusually grounded Dr. Stockmann, intelligent and certain that his research is correct, in the centre of what would, in modern times, be a scandal plastered across every newspaper in Britain. Realistic and concerned, Stockmann quickly wins over the town until the Mayor (a gruff and uncompromising Darrell D’Silva) presents a more sinister, threatening counter-argument which seemingly changes everything. Throw in Bryan Dick as a flip-flopping journalist and Niall Ashdown as the hilariously deadpan Aslaksen, and this could have become a farce which mirrors the state of current affairs.
Instead, we are well met with an entertaining commentary on our political state as it stands, which is also vibrant, fiery and razor-sharp. Ibsen’s words resonate and remain within the mind beyond the hour-and-45 minutes of the performance. Stockmann stands up for himself and the truth, and the play challenges, quite directly, its audience to do the same, asking what is right, what is wrong, and who has the governance to say so. We see the beliefs of the majority challenged, and watch how the individual, no matter how strong their ideals, can be swayed by personal advancement.
The tension ratchets up a notch with every act that plays out, and, in a constant state of flux, the morality of the play moves in a realistic – and somewhat concerning – manner. Left with little to do but watch as the town slowly turns against him, Fletcher’s Dr. Stockmann carries the weight of the world upon his shoulders, and, most importantly, never resigns himself to failure.
Act Four is where Fletcher really comes into his own, his character finally cracking under pressure and firing on all cylinders, straight into the audience. At no point, however, does either Stockmann as a character or Fletcher as his life force, tip over into a madness that would make him ridiculous. Though he becomes the public enemy, Stockmann retains his truth and dignity, and perhaps that is what is important here – knowing the difference between standing up for your beliefs and crossing the line into something more dangerous.
Harrower’s new adaptation of Public Enemy is strong, intelligent and truly hits its mark. The cast is spot on, and nothing falls by the wayside. A must see no matter which side you fall on, the public, or the Public Enemy.
Public Enemy is playing at The Young Vic Theatre until the 8 June 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Young Vic website.