Bravo Belvoir! You are doing what theatre should be doing – filling your stage with people just like us – changing complexions, cultures, nationalities and genders wherever possible to make the stories you are telling more accessible for today’s audiences.
Belvoir’s latest offering “An Enemy of the People” is a smart, sharp reworking by Melissa Reeves, of the classic Norweigan playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play from 1882, directed by Anne-Louise Sarks (who previously directed Jasper Jones and Seventeen for Belvoir). The Enemy, Dr Thomas Stockmann was transposed into Dr Katherine Stockman, played by Kate Mulvany and this in itself made the character a particularly pertinent symbol of our time. In our political environment which belittles and bullies women – the treatment of Mulvany’s Dr Stockman was uncomfortably powerful.
The play begins in the commonplace setting of the barbecue where the characters are introduced to us as being in Anywhere, Australia. Dr Stockman receives notice that the spa which the town is famous for and makes money from, has a contaminated water supply which is affecting clients of the spa. The set-up, the reveals, are all enacted smoothly and easily just as in real life – we are following Dr Stockman and her passion for the truth – we see no other viable alternative. As the other characters start discussion their points of view and other “truths” as they see them, perhaps some of the 100% commitment to Dr Stockman may have wavered. The arguments to bring her down are so normal and everyday – especially in the Trump world – that we know what to expect. However, in the context of the play it is still shocking and unpleasant to witness.
The three women in the play were cast in a gender politic position against five men. Typically, the women are physically smaller than the men which makes their positions more threatened. The female voices are talked over, ignored, made fun of, and for the women in the audience, the play was uncomfortable for its realism. For the men, it may have seemed less familiar to their experience – but it nonetheless rang true.
It’s a clever story, Dr Stockman and her brother Peter established a wellness spa in the small town where they live. Her medical training makes her aware of a range of symptoms their clients are experiencing at the spa – they suggest some sort of poisoning and investigations confirm the spa waters are polluted with metals, and is responsible for producing rashes, causing headaches and other ailments. Dr Stockman wants to reveal it immediately and start the fix. Her friends – the journalist and the councilor are keen to shine a light on the problem. They both see that the incident will promote their ambitions but her brother, the mayor, can see it won’t serve him. He then works on stoking their ambitions in other ways while making sure he keeps the toxic waters a secret. This sets off the chain of events so known to us in this political age.
The cast was full of standout performances, as always, Mulvany shines as she takes full command of the stage. Her brother, played by Leon Ford, is perfect in his role, her cleaner Randine played by Catherine Davies is very real as the foil of all the political maneuverings – which never helps her downtrodden class. Kenneth Moraleda (have we seen you on a council somewhere?) is superb and utterly believable as a councilor.
An Enemy of the People is clever, it’s fresh, there’s humour there’s a warning. Belvoir – congratulations – a great production!
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