Socialist Worker

An Enemy of the People—exploring Arthur Miller’s legacy on stage

by Dave Gibson
Issue No. 2476

Dr Stockmann (left) fighting back

Dr Stockmann (left) fighting back (Pic: Ian Tilton)


This new production is a powerful revival of Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People.  

The play has always been popular with the left, sine Eleanor Marx first translated it from Danish.

The Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavski, who played the lead character Dr. Stockmann in Petrograd in 1905, remarked, “An Enemy of the People became the favourite play of the revolutionists.”

This staging was put on to celebrate the centenary of US play write Arthur Miller’s birth. 

He adapted it during the height of McCarthyism, the witch hunt of “treacherous” US Communists in the 1950s.

Dr Stockmann is dubbed “a traitor to society” for seeking to tell the medical truth. He informs people that the town baths’ drainage is contaminated. Though initially supportive, the local establishment try to silence him with bribes, threats and violence. 

Stockmann starts out politically naive. But his faith in the liberal opposition, the local mayor and the press are stripped away. 

For Miller, the play emphasised “the need to resist the pressure to conform”.  In 1949 an right wing riot broke up a Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York. 

It echoed the riot that destroyed Dr Stockmann’s public meeting, as he makes a last ditch attempt to tell people about the medical catastrophe. 

Just like some Peekskill survivors kept the rocks that smashed their car windows, Dr Stockmann saves them as “sacred relics” as reminders for his boys. 

Throughout the production, the windows that will be smashed hang ominously over the stage. 

Thacker’s production carries Ibsen and Miller’s message well. Dr Stockmann is branded “an enemy of the people” because of his refusal to bend. 

But through his refusal, he begins to understand how society works and resolves to keep fighting.

An Enemy of the People 
Directed by David Thacker. 
Octagon Theatre, 
Bolton BL1 1SB. 
Until 31 October. 

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Reviews
Tue 20 Oct 2015, 16:39 BST
Issue No. 2476
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