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An Enemy of the People review at Playground Theatre, London – ‘awkward Ibsen update’

The cast of An Enemy of the People at Playground Theatre. Photo: Jolley Gosnold

This ill-thought-out adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People hits all the wrong notes. It begins with the paper-thin love interest Hannah (Hannah Van Der Westhuysen – all the characters share the actors’ names) giving a needless, bumbling definition of what dramatic action is, and goes down hill from here.

Writer and director Jolley Gosnold has attempted to haul Ibsen’s play into the present day. It’s still the story of a doctor who discovers his town’s water supply is polluted and dares to speak truth to power, but this attempt to update it feels awkward.

The committed cast shriek, brawl and undress – the production appears to be striving for an intensity it never quite achieves. As things become ever more contrived, it increasingly feels as if Gosnold has not provided a safety net for his actors. With a weak and repetitive text, there’s also a lack of dramatic conflict. The characters are one-dimensional and the actors are left flailing around on a cluttered, muddily-lit stage.

Things get worse in a second act that opens with a town hall meeting. The characters directly address the audience, with Gabriel Akuwudike screaming at length into his microphone that the audience are fools and should be annihilated. The actor looks visibly uncomfortable while performing this misjudged diatribe.

Gosnold invokes the tragedy of Grenfell Tower as the show’s inspiration. This seems crass given the community is still fighting for justice. The parallels don’t work and Gosnold’s adaptation comes across as clumsy, something not helped by the fact he’s directing his own text.

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Awkward, clumsy and ill-thought-out attempt to update Ibsen’s play