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.