The Enemy, a production by National Theatre of Scotland, is at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh for a short run (Wed 20 Oct to Sat 23 Oct), and if story-driven theatre which asks many questions, raises many issues, and has a production team and a cast capable of delivering performance theatre with real power is how you like your theatre, then try to get a ticket for this one.
This production written by Kieran Hurley and directed by Finn den Hertog is a radical re-working of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of The People from 1882 and, some 140 years on, these eternal questions of power, corruption, truth and consequences are just as powerful, and the answers as ugly to face as they were when Ibsen wrote his work. This time, however, it is set in a Scottish town that has seen decay over many decades as the opportunities, dreams, hopes and in some cases the very health of its inhabitants have all been swept away along with the employment that the town once knew. Now though, there is hope, as the investment in the creation of a major tourist attraction/holiday destination promises to restore not only employment, but everything that goes with it to not only the town, but the people.
At the last moment, there is one problem, one unwanted truth to be told by Dr Kirsten Stockmann (Hannah Donaldson) that sets her on a collision course with not only her local councillor sister Vonny (Gabriel Quigley) but also many people in the town. The initial suppression of her truth and the consequences of it finally being told affect not only Kirsten, but also her daughter Petra (Eléna Redmond) and force her to re-examine not only her relationship with her family and friends, but everyone in the town as the darker sides of people’s own self-interest, their own sense of self-preservation, or their own denial of truths come to the surface. Strong performances from Billy Mack, Neil McKinven and Taqi Nazeer give this story the feel of their characters being real people that a production like this needs to maintain its on stage illusion of realism.
This production is a clever, and skilful re-working of an old story brought up into the 21st century as we also examine the way modern social media works in swiftly giving everyone access to publish their views, and the far darker side of the social media world which so swiftly can escalate thoughts into a vicious campaign of hatred, threats, fear and retribution. As much a part of the on-stage performance this production also blends video design by Lewis den Hertog into the actual fabric of the story line, and often with subtle and dramatic effects and information just as important to the story development as any words spoken on-stage.
The Enemy also highlights another question as it re-works a classic: have all the stories really been told already? The answer to this question is probably yes, and they were probably all told thousands of years ago and all we ever do is add variations to the story or look at it from different angles, and the core questions of a truth to be told despite the consequences is a story that will never run out of variants on the original question, and perhaps this is why this production works so well as there is no definitive answer to how the story will end.
The Enemy has a performance time of 100 minutes with no interval, and that is a wise choice as this tightly woven story and skilfully performed work needs to be told as one continuous performance. That performance does what every very good work of theatre should do – completely involve an audience in the story, leave them waiting for the next word, and for time to pass surprisingly quickly as you become absorbed into the story unfolding on-stage and start to believe that you are watching through a window into the lives of the characters, and not actors performing on a stage. Here the story and the performances are strong enough to allow this all to happen.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
ARTS REVIEWS EDINBURGH