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Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic

Public_Enemy326Had Henrik Ibsen been alive today, Public Enemy would be a play fostered by the Royal Court's international writers programme and would probably be debuting at the Jerwood upstairs. There is a certain irony to the fact that the themes he explores are as pertinent today as they were when they were written in 1882 - is there any change in progress?

In Public Enemy - a version by David Harrower with the title changed from Ibsen's Enemy of the People - Dr Stockman discovers that his beloved home town's money-spinning spa is in fact toxic. He thinks people will be grateful of his discovery and initially has support from the local businesses and newspaper but when they realise that exposure of the problem will destroy the cash cow, for a couple of years at least until expensive repairs are made, their support wains.

It is on one level a deeply political play. The Mayor and the council rushed through the spa development putting short term economic gain ahead of longer term moral duty. It is democracy that leans heavily toward an oligarchy with undue influence and power.

On the other it is about one man's fight to expose the truth but in doing so risks his family and livelihood. An idealist he slowly becomes obsessed and disillusioned, fixated on his rights as an individual resorting to political and philosophical rants.

Miriam Buether's stage design is sort of retro IKEA - yes I know IKEA is Swedish rather than Norwegian - but there is lots of pale wood and minimalist chairs. Similar to The Government Inspector the stage extends across the full width of the Young Vic's performance space which can make viewing from the edges of the auditorium or close to the stage tiring on the neck.

It is an interesting play and Dr Stockman's journey is an interesting one. He certainly tests the audiences empathy and I confess at times I found him a little hard work and, dare I say it, extremely irritating. It is an accomplished production, well performed and pertinent in its themes but it probably isn't my favourite Ibsen play.

Public Enemy runs at the Young Vic until 8 June and this was a preview performance. You can ready Poly's review over on her blog.

Stan recommends:

The Tempest, The Globe

The Hothouse, Trafalgar Studios

The Play That Goes Wrong, Trafalgar Studios 2

The Weir, Donmar Warehouse

Othello, National Theatre

The Winslow Boy, Old Vic


Darrell D'Silva who plays the mayor was in Criminial Justice with Mr W.