Socialist Worker

Public Enemy

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2354

Nick Fletcher Public enemy

Darrell D'Silva as the mayor (Pic: Young Vic)

An Enemy of the People is Henrik Ibsen’s classic play about corruption. 

Anyone who hates capitalism should go and see this new production based on it by David Harrower, Public Enemy.

It tells the story of Dr Stockmann, played by Nick Fletcher, who discovers that the town’s public spa baths are polluted and a health hazard. 

He expects to be called a hero for the discovery but the baths are the main source of wealth for the town. 

So the mayor, who is Stockmann’s brother, and representatives of all the local business people try to cover up it up.

No character is straightforward. 

A radical newspaper editor initially wants to publish Stockmann’s report. But he quickly shifts when told that this would throw everyone into poverty.

The doctor is the only one who refuses to compromise—shown as reflecting his descent into madness.

And in a speech to a public meeting, his attack on politicians slips into an attack on ordinary people.

The production moves very quickly—only running for around 90 minutes. 

This makes it hard to show the subtle  development of the doctor’s mental state.

Ibsen published An Enemy of the People in 1882, when featuring women with opinions and taking part in debates about society was radical. 

In a modernised  production this radicalism is less obvious.But it is still a thought-provoking look at how society runs and whether we can improve it.

A century after the play was published, Stockmann’s attacks on politicians, consumerism and celebrity culture is as relevant as ever.

Public Enemy 
by Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Richard Jones
Until 8 June
Young Vic, 66 The Cut, 
Waterloo, London, SE1 8LZ,
020 7922 2922,

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Article information

Tue 21 May 2013, 19:16 BST
Issue No. 2354
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