En Folkefiende is a modern adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play in which a threat to public health is ignored and covered up in the face of governmental corruption.
There is a distinct undercurrent of Nordic Noir to this production, which (literally) revolves around four glass floor to ceiling walls that enclose the action in a set that is oddly reminiscent of Philip Schofield’s The Cube. The whole construction rotates when the “off-stage” actors, who eerily peer into room from the outside, each push a corner and re-arrange the new scene.
As an audience member, we get to experience this uncomfortable voyeurism first hand when the sliding window is shut and the fourth wall becomes a physical barrier. Each of the four walls also double as screens onto which black and white strips evocative of censored documents, and Doctor Tom’s blackboard equations are projected. The censorship element is further confounded by the use of white noise and projections to block out what is being said whenever Doctor Tom comes close to revealing precisely what is wrong with the new public springs. Although this effect is most likely intended to cause frustration, it was used so frequently that it became grating. Furthermore, it did not feel necessary to find out the exact nature of the problem since its gravity could be determined from inference pretty well – and this mattered more than the scientific details.
Another successful use of staging was the use of live drums in between scenes when the stage was rotating. The drums were mixed in such a way as to mimic the icy Norwegian setting. Harsh, cold and metallic – when the snare came to an abrupt stop and reverberated around the theatre, the dramatic tension was sustained into the next scene.
Thematically, the piece dealt with the problems of being principled. Politically, it was also particularly pertinent – Doctor Tom’s line “the truth is too expensive” was especially penetrating.
The environmental aspect could be interpreted as having further implications about climate change and climate scepticism. In this play, politics and science are put into direct opposition as the mayor refuses to accept the evidence. He insists upon another study before the story is published, to which Tom replies, “You can pay cronies to tell you what you want to hear.” This comment is painfully cutting in an era of so-called “post-truth politics” and sadly echoes the attitude of many to “independent” fiscal studies.
The press (local newspaper ‘The People’s Messenger’), lauded for their impartiality at the beginning of the play, are quickly exposed for the spineless and money-grabbing force they truly are. Preferring to print what they know is untrue than to be held accountable for becoming partisan.
Overall while the play makes important political points and the staging is highly impressive, the storytelling could have been more compelling. It is a stylistic triumph, but lacks real punch.
Image: courtesy of production