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An Enemy of the People review at Union Theatre, London – ‘prescient and powerful’

Getting its first UK production in nearly 30 years, Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People certainly feels prescient given the current miserable state of politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Set in small-town USA, the story follows idealistic doctor Stockmann, whose warnings about an impending public health crisis provoke an anti-intellectual backlash.

Director Phil Willmott hammers home the contemporary parallels with glimpses of Republican-red caps and recognisably Trumpish gestures, but some wobbly American accents and often declaratory performances give the show an unpolished feel.

After a plodding first half, things heat up as Miller’s writing gets into gear. Furious indignation builds as the doctor’s political rivals blackmail him in their various ways, while the gradual growth of mob mentality feels chillingly believable.

As Stockmann, David Mildon plays up the arrogance and idealism which blind him to what’s coming. Mary Stewart is convincing as the ruthless Mayor getting carried away by the populism she pedals for personal power, while Janaki Gerard stands out as blacklisted schoolteacher Petra, unflinchingly holding power to account as events spiral around her.

The set, designed by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, places the action within the raw beams of a partially constructed house, a reminder of the livelihoods of labourers and small business owners hanging in the balance.

Though flawed, the production makes for a layered exploration of two contradictory ideas of the public good – one driven by economic absolutism, the other placing human wellbeing at the forefront.

Verdict
Unsubtle but undeniably powerful revival of Arthur Miller’s politically astute adaptation of Ibsen's play

Production

Production
An Enemy of the People
Venue
Union Theatre
City
London
Starts
January 4, 2019
Ends
February 2, 2019
Press night
January 9, 2019
Authors
Henrik Ibsen
Adaptation
Arthur Miller
Director
Phil Willmott
Set
Justin Williams and Jonny Rust
Lighting
Ben Bull
Sound
Nicola Chang
Costume
Penn O’Gara
Stage manager
Toby Burbidge
Cast includes
Emily Byrt, Janaki Gerard, Mark Grindrod, Angelo Leal, David Mildon, Seamus Newham, Darren Ruston, Jed Shardlow, Mary Stewart
Casting
Adam Braham
Producer
Union Theatre, Josef Weinberger
Running time
1hr 55mins