Public Enemy

Published May 14, 2013

The team behind the Young Vic’s psychedelic The Government Inspector is back with another look at corruption and power, this time tackling Ibsen’s Public Enemy, and while it may not be quite so trippy, it’s just as colourful.

When the play begins, life at Dr Stockman’s house seems pretty groovy. Amongst the retro Habitat furniture and chalet wooden walls exists a collective of rosy-cheeked free thinkers who receive hospitality from the softly spoken doctor, his food-bearing wife and idealist daughter, exchanging ideas while they simultaneously enjoy the good things in life, supping on roast beef and admiring expensive lightshades.

With a jumper almost worthy of Sarah Lund, a penchant for not wearing shoes and a beard that would make Trevor Nunn jealous, Nick Fletcher’s doctor is quite the new age guru. But his Mayor brother is not quite so keen on this bourgeois lifestyle and when Stockman finds proof that the sparkly lakes beyond his living room window – which quite literally sparkle in Miriam Buether’s humorous set – are harbouring toxic bacteria, things quickly turn ugly.

While at first Stockman’s allies stand by him ready to fight, the Mayor’s manipulative campaign sees each activist’s support fall one by one until Stockman is left with only the audience to convince of his increasingly radical, and misguided, views as he attempts to seek out disciples to adopt his opt-out manifesto.

With the staging flipped on its head, director Richard Jones turns up the heat – and lights – on the audience and, feeling a bit like we’re suddenly in an episode of Kilroy, makes us play the part of delegates at a town meeting, making for an exciting and fast-paced climax where the doctor’s impassioned speech turns political convictions into condescending rhetoric.

David Harrower’s punchy translation keeps Ibsen’s story frighteningly relevant, with the sullying of integrity and the blurring of morality rearing its ugly head again and again as the twists and turns of the story fly by in its speedy adaptation.

Darrell D’Silva, who takes on an evil twin role, is fittingly slimy as the disingenuous mayor, but it is Fletcher’s accomplished and often hilarious performance as the doctor, which is the surprisingly sinister highlight of the show.

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