By Paul Foley in Britain:
Pervasive political power holds water
Wednesday 21st October 2015
An Enemy Of The People
Octagon Theatre Bolton
A doctor discovers the water supply to a public baths is poisoned. He brings it to the attention of the authorities in order for them to take the necessary steps to rectify the matter. He believes he is a hero. His actions will surely avert a public health disaster.
But he fails to reckon with vested interest. The mayor, a politician after all, needs to consider the bigger picture. He recognises the impact that such a revelation will have on the town’s prosperity. He’s also a businessman and the financial consequences for his rich partners will be significant.
So what to do when the doctor insists on going public with his discovery. Simple, denigrate him in the eyes of the public. Put pressure on the local, so-called liberal, press to ensure that he is portrayed as a traitor, an enemy of the people. Blacklist anyone foolish enough to lend him support.
Could this be a story from Cameron’s Britain in 2015, or Thatcher’s in the ’80s? Yes it could but in fact it is the premise of Henrik Ibsen’s powerful masterpiece An Enemy of the People, written in 1882 and currently showing at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre.
Director David Thacker has chosen Arthur Miller’s adaptation as part of the centenary celebrations marking Miller’s birth in 1915. Miller saw the relevance of the work to a 1950s United States cloaked in a climate of witch hunts. Unfortunately, 60 years further on, it is as relevant to a society where vested interest will still silence the truth.
It has been said that Ibsen wrote the play in a couple of months as a response to the hostile criticism of the production of his great play Ghosts. There is certainly an angry undercurrent to the piece but it is also filled with complex ideas and the polemic challenges the accepted view of a modern democracy.
Nothing is clear cut. The doctor is no saint, he is as flawed as some of his adversaries. His head can be turned by the prospect of becoming a public hero. This messy reality is what gives the play its strength.
This is a remarkable, thoughtful and accessible play. Bolton’s Octagon should be congratulated for a fine and compelling production of an often neglected masterpiece. It is a worthy testament to both Ibsen and Miller and definitely should not be missed.
Runs until October 31 2015. Box Office (01204) 520-661