Firehall Arts Centre

An Enemy of the People

By Henrik Ibsen

Directed & Adapted:Donna Spencer Costume Design: Barbara Clayden Lighting Design: James Proudfoot  Sound Design: Hannu Huuskonen  Stage Manager: Anne Taylor

Venue: Firehall Arts Centre
Dates: 31 January - 23 February 2003

Reviewer: Ed Farolan

I found Donna Spencer's adaptation of Ibsen's play quite refreshing. She sets the play in contemporary times, here in B.C., and touches on environmental problems which are issues of the day. She chose a play that targets contemporary issues, especially here in B.C., where there is much concern for clean water and a pollution-free environment.

She adapted the play after reading Arthur Miller's adaptation which was made into a film version in 1977, directed by George Schaefer, starring Steve McQueen and Bibi Anderson. An earlier film version was done in1937, Ein Volksfeind, directed by Hans Steinhof; and the most recent, in1980, written and directed by Satyajit Ray, starring Soumitra Guhathakurta, Mamata Shankar, and Dipanlar Dey.

In her adaptation, Spencer makes the main character of the play, Dr. Stockman, a woman. I found this quite innovative and truly appropriate; in fact, it might have worked better for Ibsen if he had made the main character of this play a woman instead of a man, as he was one of the prime movers of the feminist movement, and many of his plays such as A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler had as the main protagonist a woman.

In An Enemy of the People (1882) Ibsen attacked the so-called "liberal majority" and the conformity of mass opinion. This is one of Ibsen's more powerful plays showing his strong distrust of society and its democratic principles. In this play, he shows the pettiness of the majority vote, and satirizes the democratic process.

The play is about a doctor in a small town in B.C. who discovers toxic pollutants in the water source, and wants to warn the townspeople about this by publishing it in the town paper. The publisher and editor are hesitant to publish this because of pressures from the Mayor of the town who doesn't want to cause any panic, and thus lose tourism revenues. In a farcical townhall meeting, the doctor is branded "an enemy of the people" for trying to tell the truth about the water contamination.

Marie Clements as Dr. Elizabeth Stockman was perfect for the part. She was natural, passionate and forceful as the principled doctor. Tracey Olson as Mayor Peter Stockman was convincing as the stock politician with his manipulative machinations. The other characters worked well together, and the ensemble acting worked well the the thrust, intimate stage of Firehall.

Lights and sounds were well-timed. This was the second day of preview performances I went to see, and a little adjustment with the sound effects, especially in the second act, needs to be made. For example, the main characters were giving their major speeches and the sound effects of people talking, water pouring, and sounds of a printing press should perhaps be toned down a bit. But I'm sure things will get better as opening night approaches.

© 2003, Ed Farolan