Monday 14 October 2019

theatre

john mckeown

an enemy of the people

gate theatre, dublin

In Ibsen's play, a doctor becomes anathema to his fellow townsfolk for pointing out that the spa waters, which it's hoped will regenerate the town economically, are poisoned. The definitive adaptation of this powerful portrayal of one man standing up against the majority led by a cabal of the powerful, is Arthur Miller's.

Miller fleshes out in detail the intricate web of dependency in which Doctor Stockmann (Declan Conlon) and his opponents are enmeshed, against the background of the McCarthy era with its Communist paranoia and deification of the American way of life.

Miller, with forensic even-handedness, presents both sides of the argument, and the positions in-between, with equal force. Good isn't always clear of unmixed motive, or even the rational choice, and reason is more often on the bad guys' side. 'Kirsten Springs', financed by Stockmann's brother Peter (Denis Conway), is about to transform the town and put money in everyone's pocket, and the reasons deployed against the Doctor, however base, would convince most people to modify their position.

But the Doctor's not for turning, despite the loss of his livelihood and the threat to that supposed ultimate good, his family.

Conlon's finely observed performance, taking us from the Doctor's initially breezy, naive belief that the simple fact of the poisoned waters will sweep all before it, to his almost fanatical embrace of truth in the abstract, builds to a tremendous tour-de-force of naked passion. And for its sense of suppressed violence, lethally mixed with fraternal feelings gone bad, Conway's is the perfect complement.

Fiona Bell as the doctor's wife crackles with nervous energy, while Barry McGovern as Aslaksen, the carefully liberal newspaper proprietor, is a mordantly commanding presence – though his signature line about 'moderation' garners inappropriate audience laughter that often saps the tension.

But tension triumphs, as does intensely satisfying drama, in Wayne Jordan's vibrant production, a stylish and confident rendition of Fifties small-town America cross-bred with Norway.

It isn't often you have actors in the auditorium at the Gate, but Jordan deploys them for the town hall scene, in which the Doctor attempts to convince the townsfolk of the danger of Kirsten Springs.

The citizenry are rather over the top in their rage, but this later feeds into the adrenaline rush of fear and exhilaration we feel as the Doctor and his defenceless family face the mob, armed only with the truth.

Irish Independent

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