I am handed the program for tonight’s performance as I enter, the front cover blazoned with a now infamous image (Seamus Wray) of Donald Trump leaning to drink from a water bottle with two hands – the play’s title An Enemy of the People, superimposed over it. This immediately sets the tone for the evening, as I now expect a cunning parody of today’s political climate. Director Phil Willmott claims the inspiration for this subject matter is Trump’s statement that anyone opposing him is “an enemy of the people”. Unfortunately it seems that as a result of this, the bar is set too high for the players involved.
From the get-go there is a demonstrative air about the actors. They seem to not be actively listening to one another, as if they are so eager to perform their next move that it stops any spontaneity. Another choice which doesn’t help the speech reach us as an audience, is the fact that for the majority of the show the players are placed far back into the space, forcing them to work that much harder to fill it’s echoey environment.
An Enemy of the State is adapted by Arthur Miller from a play by Henrik Ibsen, names which need no further introduction to an avid theatregoer. The parallels which can be drawn from this piece and Trump’s presidency are comically clear, as Dr Thomas Stockmann (David Mildon) discovers that Kirsten Springs, which is aiming to become a destination resort, has a poisoned water supply. This is understandably devastating news in more ways than one, but Mayor Stockmann (Mary Stewart), who is also Thomas’ sister, can only see the financial implications that this news will introduce if it is made public. So instead of tackling the issue of poisoned water head on, she decides instead to discredit her brother at every turn, despite his findings being scientifically proven. This asks the question, do those in power really have our best interests at heart?
Despite this interesting premise, the overall feeling of this production is an underwhelming one. American accents fail to establish themselves, it lacks energy even at the most dramatic moments and the actors seem to struggle to simply stand still when speaking, abolishing any moments of gravitas. The play being chosen as being part of the Union Theatre’s fourth Essential Classics season, the theme this year actually being Enemies of the People, is an apt choice, but poorly executed.
An Enemy of the People is playing until 2 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Union Theatre website.