Monday, 22 October 2012

An Enemy of the People, Schaubühne Berlin, Oct 21, 2012 *****

By Henrik Ibsen, Schaubühne Berlin
Melbourne Festival
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, October 21 to 27, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Published in Herald Sun online Tues Oct 23, 2012 and in print on Wed Oct 24.

Stefan Stern in An Enemy of the People 

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH SETS OFF A SOCIAL AND POLITICAL TIME-BOMB  in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and Thomas Ostermeier’s production fires it directly into our contemporary world where it sits ticking ominously as we wait for it to explode.

Dr. Thomas Stockmann (Stefan Stern) is a whistleblower with none of the protections of the Whistleblowers’ Act and he faces ruination when he suspects, then proves, that the water supply to his town’s new Health Spa is contaminated by upstream pollution and is making patients ill.

Naively, Thomas thinks that the Town Council and his brother, Peter (Ingo Hülsmann), the Mayor, will be grateful and act immediately to repair the damage. Wrong!

Reparation, Thomas is told, is prohibitively expensive and will ruin the town’s economy, so his proof is discredited or ignored, Thomas is ridiculed and abused, supporters threatened or bribed, and Peter will not tolerate his reputation being tarnished by his foolhardy, ‘irresponsible’ brother.

Ostermeier argues Ibsen’s case with vigour and courage so effectively that one wants to boo and cheer – and he provides an opportunity in a participatory town meeting where audience members vehemently argue the case on microphones from the auditorium.

This is an inspired interpretation of Ibsen’s explosive play with committed, credible performances from a masterly cast, acerbic and satirical humour and accessible, relevant political commentary.

Tell a lie and build an entire campaign on it – that’s what Peter does. Sound familiar?

But do we, and Thomas, only want transparency and maintain the high moral ground when we have no financial, vested interest? Thomas is finally confronted with an unexpected choice – and we are left wondering what he will choose.

Ostermeier’s production is riveting and lucid, illuminating the issues in Ibsen’s 19th century Scandinavian play and catapulting them forward in time to address modern themes including the environmental sustainability, global financial crisis and social disintegration.

Ostermeier balances comedy with drama, the personal with the political, comfortable domestic scenes with prickly arguments then risky audience participation.

He incorporate delicious moments of invention as lines of dialogue and moments between characters delight and surprise us with their subtext or unexpected interpretations that resonate with our modern context.

Stern is a sympathetic everyman as Thomas, playing him with naïvete and awkward charm that evolves into impotent rage as he is ostracised for attacking not simply the spa, but also social norms and power structures.

As Peter, Hülsmann is cool, dapper, articulate and maddeningly manipulative, generating heat as he massages the truth into something that resembles policy.

David Ruland is wonderfully beige as local bureaucrat and newspaper editor, Aslaksen, whose modus operandi is appeasement while Christoph Gawenda is the perfect journalistic opportunist looking for a story to make his career.

Moritz Gottwald, who also provides music on guitar, invigorates the role of Billing, another ambitious newspaperman, playing him as a twitchy, young man looking for the next lefty issue to protest.

Eva Meckbach is funky and modern as Thomas’s young wife and Ostermeier inserts some unsettling subtext about her fidelity. As her father, Morten Kiil, Thomas Bading is louche and conniving as he slopes silently around the stage with his German Shepherd in tow.

Jan Pappelbaum’s design cunningly uses blackboard walls that are scribbled and sketched on to create furniture and slogans, locations, stage directions and titles for scenes.

Live, modern music is skilfully integrated into the play; in the opening scenes, Thomas and friends sing and play David Bowie’s Ch-ch-changes and other pop songs.

Ibsen was controversial in his time and this production delivers a volatile adaptation that will trigger heated conversation in the car on the way home – and later.

By Kate Herbert

Creative Team
Director, Thomas Ostermeier
Adaptation & Dramaturgy, Florian Borchmeyer
Stage Design, Jan Pappelbaum
Music, Malte Beckenbach, Daniel Freitag
Lighting, Erich Schneider
Costume, Nina Wetzel
Paintings, Katharina Ziemke
 Stefan Stern, Ingo Hülsmann, Eva Mendeck, Christoph Gawenda, David Rutland, Moritz Gottwald, Thomas Bading

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