TRCH Priscilla

An Enemy of the People Review - Nottingham Playhouse

18 September 19 words: Jeremy Goldsmith
photos: Tristram Kenton

Alex Kingston is best known for her TV work (ER, Moll Flanders, Doctor Who), though recently she has returned to the stage. She is the star that Nottingham Playhouse of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new adaptation of Ibsen’s drama about the conflict of political power and truth, at the Playhouse.

The play revolves around the discovery by the local doctor that the town’s spa is polluted and toxic. However, rather than being received as a hero, the authorities reject the findings as the spa is the source of the town’s wealth. Soon the doctor is branded ‘an enemy of the people’ by the citizens themselves, who see their jobs at stake and their taxes threatened to rise. The characters and audience are confronted not by a moral dilemma between right and wrong but an ethical nightmare, where each apparently positive action harms another individual, family, or group.

While a cynical observer may feel Kingston has been brought in to draw audiences beyond the usual theatre-going population, she is no mere figurehead. Kingston’s doctor moves seamlessly from happy enthusiasm to agitation, from passion to sorrow, horror to resolve. She reveals a character who is supremely confident in the truths of science but is dangerously naïve to political reality. In one moment of exasperation the doctor exclaims she has truth on her side, shocked to be told that is useless if you have no power. This realisation is compacted by Dr Stockman’s position as a woman striving to be listened to in a society run by misogynistic men, a transformation by Lenkiewicz (Ibsen’s doctor is, of course, a man).

The high points of tension are marked by the dramatic duels between the doctor and the mayor (Malcolm Sinclair), who are not only adversaries but siblings. Sinclair is an excellent foil to Kingston’s doctor, though at times he falls into a Broadbent-esque pomposity, playing for laughs more than is necessary. This element of farce is undoubtedly funny but threatens to undermine the real seriousness of the drama.

The themes speak strongly in a world that increasingly sees the exploitation of the truth by the powerful, where vested interests use the media to manipulate the opinions of the wider public, where the world ultimately revolves around money.

Ibsen’s plays – with their naturalism and concern with personal relationships, society and power – easily lend themselves to adaptation for modern audiences. These are issues that are timeless but enormously relevant in the contemporary world. Kingston shows the real moral struggle between doing what is right at the expense of reputation, livelihood, and family – it is a wonder to behold.

An Enemy of the People is at the Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 13 September until Saturday 28 September