EFR - Reviews of En Folkefiende

En Folkefiende

Mon 1st – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Grace Calvert

at 11:29 on 15th Aug 2016

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It’s been a good year for Tom, a revered doctor, who has just been appointed to a counsel overseeing the town’s most talked about project, the Springs. The Springs are going to invigorate the town’s economy, and it’s Tom’s brother and mayor of the town, Peter, who is to thank for the project. It’s certainly a year to celebrate. That is until Tom discovers that the Springs might pose a huge health risk to the public, and truth must now butt heads with power. 'En Folkefiende' is a modern reworking of classic political drama, An Enemy of the People.

In the middle of the stage is a transparent box, where Tom’s steady downfall plays out to the watchful eyes of the cast, peering through the Perspex. It’s a heavy-handed way of highlighting that Tom’s life has become a public trial of confidence. At the beginning of the play, Tom’s cushy study, all wood and leather, occupies this space and aesthetically the two feel mismatched. Furthermore, because the transparent walls block all the sound coming out of the box, the actors have microphones. This immediately makes the feel play less real, as we can hear the false projection with every word they speak. It’s a little gimmicky and I don’t feel it adds enough to the production to warrant the effort.

Squint is undoubtedly a very talented ensemble. Tom, played by Seren Vickers, is a tour de force throughout, skilfully building up her frustration but never losing the audience’s patience with this dogged character. Connor Vickery, who plays Peter, is perfectly manipulative, and seeing the brother sister relationship play out between these two is a joy.

However, more than the box, it’s the adaption and direction that lets this production down. One of the most noticeable deviations from Ibsen’s original is that Tom is now a female character. Yet there is no indication that this changes Tom’s career or public perception. Before we meet Tom, her husband and brother reveal their suspicions that Tom was appointed to the counsel purely because of her brother Peter's interference. Tom denies this throughout, insisting on her own professional expertise. There’s a perfect opportunity to explore modern issues of women feeling belittled in the work place, but instead this discussion is more focused on the petty rivalry of two siblings.

Similarly, there doesn’t seem an attempt to add any modern complexity to the representation of the media. Ibsen was living in a totally different era, without Twitter or Facebook. We now have social media, which has completely changed how powerful self-publication can be. However the closest Squint comes to talking about modern journalism is a brief comment on how the newspaper business is hard at the moment. The play doesn’t work in a modern context, unless you rework it so that you engage with modern life.

Overall, 'En Folkefiende' is pacey and beautifully acted, but it resists the complexity that a modern retelling demands.

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Sebastian Ng

at 15:30 on 15th Aug 2016

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Trouble brews when headstrong scientist Tom (the sister of the town mayor Peter Stockmann) discovers a problem. 'En Folkefiende' self-consciously redacts the precise nature of this problem with white noise - but we know that it implicates a massive project, which would put the town's livelihood and the mayor's reputation into serious jeopardy. Tom's dogged determination to expose the scandal leads to a high-stakes sibling rivalry – Tom v Peter, if you will – which collides scientific responsibility for truth with political and economic concerns.

The writing is exquisitely meticulous. As the protagonist, Tom’s perspective is favoured, but Brad Birch's script is fastidious about walking the razor’s edge of impartiality. Meanwhile, the media are not presented as the junkies of sensationalism that most fiction today often portrays them to be. Despite the newspaper's sincere integrity, Tom is circumspect about trusting them, while Peter makes use of their neutrality to spin moral arguments in his favour.

The play's technical centrepiece is a constructed box that serves as the performance stage, enclosed on all four sides with sliding mesh screens that double up as entry points for the actors and as a screen for projection effects. Despite walking into the play not knowing anything about it, I detected an elegant, simplistic Scandinavian aesthetic to the choice of costume and set design – long before the word ‘kroner’ pops up in the dialogue, or before learning that the play is an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’. I was impressed with the subtle clarity that allowed me to be conscious of the play's roots without being explicitly told. In addition, I found the eccentric scene changes bombastically exciting – characters enter and exit the box while the lights change and abstract projection flashes across the screens, driven by agitated live percussion stings that propels the next scene into being. If that is not enough, the box set reveals one more unexpected trick at the play's midpoint.

The perfectly-cast ensemble headlined by Seren Vickers (as Tom) and Connor Vickery (as Peter) deliver highly polished performances. This is clearly the mark of good direction under Andrew Whyment, whose confident and well-executed stylistic production lends the play a breathless immediacy, and succeeds in heating up intellectual and emotional tension as the play progresses.

The only brickbat is that it is missing a third act - but that does not detract from the fact that it is a genuinely compelling theatrical experience, which left me with a buzz for hours after the end. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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