Writer: Kieran Hurley (After Henrik Ibsen)
Director: Finn Den Hertog
A small town that has been in decline since the 1970s is about to get a major overhaul courtesy of The Big Splash Beach Resort. The local provost Vonny Stockman, is actively supporting the project and not just because it was the brainchild of her sister Kirsten. There is, however, one small problem. As a result of the work to build the resort being rushed through to meet the deadline to launch a bid to for the title ‘City of Regeneration’, the town’s water supply is poisoning the locals, with schools and workplaces seeing high levels of sick absence.
The Enemy is Kieran Hurley’s retelling of Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. Originally scheduled for production pre-pandemic, it seems tailor made for the not quite post-pandemic era we’re in now.
The storyline has large echoes of the handling of coronavirus as Vonny chooses to ignore the evidence and warnings presented by her sister after she discovers the problem with the water supply. Her reason for doing this seems to be that significant risks to public health are of less importance than the economic benefits of being open for business.
As Kirsten breaks ranks and goes public with her concerns, the response from social media suggests that large parts of the town agree with Vonny. Any discussion of the validity of the claims is quickly replaced with insults, accusations, death threats and more. The truth is no defence against an angry mob who believe the Big Splash offers a chance to escape from decades of under-funding and economic mismanagement. Enter Brexit, or even the takeover of Newcastle United, as other subjects that could find mirror images in the play.
Finn Den Hertog’s direction and Lewis Den Hertog’s impressive video design also seem to have been designed with lockdown in mind. A large screen captures sound bites from locals, skype calls, twitter posts and more, to the point where you imagine that the creative team as a whole were always working in the knowledge that they may have to switch to an online only production at any time.
The script displays the same acerbic wit and pinpoint dissection of popular culture that have become a trademark of Hurley’s work. The small town targets are used to represent bigger foes. Vonny Stockman could be just a few steps away from Bonny Scotland as a character that sacrifices people for profits. But the larger question posed by the title of the play, and the words omitted from Ibsen’s original, is who are the enemy? Is it just governments, businesses and social media giants, or are the people themselves the enemy, for not standing up to corporate power abuses and for succumbing too easily to the lure of social media dog whistling campaigns.
The cast, headed up by Hannah Donaldson as Kirsten and Gabriel Quigley as Vonny all play their roles with complete honesty and commitment. While Vonny and some of the other characters may be written in part as caricatures, they are played as people, which adds to the power of the messages.
The only problems with the play come towards the end. The scene where Kirsten raises her concerns about the true enemy starts as a powerful polemic but carries on for too long and begins to feel like a rant that is emphasising a point for fear that the audience won’t get it. The reflective coda to the play also feels unnecessary, and the timeline of events is a little unclear. These points aside however, this is a strong reimagining of Ibsen’s work that has been given extra contemporary relevance by events that were unknown when work began on it.
Runs until 23 October 2021 | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic