An Enemy of the People review at the Bolton Octagon – ‘an insightful revival’

Rob Edwards (centre) in An Enemy of the People at Bolton Octagon. Photo: Ian Tilton Rob Edwards (centre) in An Enemy of the People at Bolton Octagon. Photo: Ian Tilton
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Is the majority always right? In Arthur Miller’s version of Ibsen’s angry sociological drama, definitely not. And David Thacker’s skilfully staged account is certainly a reminder of the human capacity for tipping into mob mentality, while making a powerful contribution to this year’s Arthur Miller centenary celebrations.

Building on his acclaimed 1988 Young Vic version, the best thing about Thacker’s new in-the-round late-1900s-set account is the way it explores, explains and exposes so meticulously how ordinary people can turn into a tyrannical self-righteous moral majority.

From the moment Ibsen’s anti-hero, Dr Tomas Stockmann, obtains scientific proof that the local health spa is toxic and likely to bring ruin to the boom-town economy, there’s a compelling inevitability about watching a local saviour being painted as a pariah by a combination of corrupt politics, financial self-interest and personal hypocrisy.

Fired-up by his own witch-hunt experience in an America gripped by McCarthyism, Miller took liberties with Ibsen’s original text: Tomas, for instance, tends to come over as a preachy martyr to the mob rather than Ibsen’s contradictory hotheaded oddball, and the women seem curiously underwhelming. But the cast pitch the characters at just the right level of moral ambivalence, with the pivotal ideological and personal truth-telling clash between Rob Edwards’ Tomas and David Birrell as his oily older brother being exceptionally gripping.

It’s also good to see imaginative use made of the Octagon’s versatile open stage, as James Cotterill’s design shifts the focus from a cosy domestic setting to the public arena and then back to a home utterly destroyed by “the people”.

An insightful revival successfully combines the dramatic power of Ibsen and Miller