Public Enemy - Reviewed

Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green sees a flawed but absorbing production of Ibsen's Public Enemy at the Young Vic, London.

Public EnemyA timeless story of corruption, pollution and courage becomes particularly pertinent in David Harrower’s updated new version of Ibsen’s Public Enemy (Young Vic), directed by Richard Jones.

Doctor Stockmann is a sincere and individualistic medical practitioner who works in a small Norweigan town that relies for its wealth on its new public baths. However when Dr. Stockmann discovers that its waters are toxic and announces that the spa is contaminated and needs to be closed, he expects gratitude and glory. Instead his revelation makes him the most hated man in town – even by his brother, the mayor.

Ibsen wrote this work in 1882 in furious disgust as a response to the public outcry against his previous play Ghost a year earlier. Indeed his themes of cover-up, environmental disaster; whistle-blowing and the low regard in which true visionary figures tend to be held are more topical today than ever. However the beginning of this production seems rushed but once it settles into a steady rhythm it draws us into its characters and plot.

Yet in trying to capture the comic density that Ibsen brought to a distinctly unfunny situation, director Richard Jones makes the play seem almost cartoonish and this is not helped by Miriam Buether’s ultra modern evocation of Dr. Stockmann’s home – a riot of orange wallpaper and striped pine. One sardonically amusing scene in particular, though, stands out – that is when Stockmann addresses via microphone a large gathering of people from all social classes which, in this production, also takes in the audience. Here Stockmann vehemently articulates his distaste for politicians and self-serving liberals and the sheep-like mentality of the majority.

Director Richard Jones draws three strong performances from Nick Fletcher who brings the right mixture of innocence and messianic fervour as the battling director, whose revelation receives widespread loathing from the dignitaries in the town who fear for their profits, Darrell D’ Silva as his brutally assertive brother, with whom he falls out and Charlotte Randall as his wife who harrowing shows the personal cost to her family of her husband’s  determination to stand alone.

In short then a flawed but absorbing production which lacks its original explosiveness but still manages to convey a mixture of power and truthfulness.

Public Enemy runs until June 8 at The Young Vic, London

Box office: 020 7922 2922

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