Review: An Enemy of the People @ Lichfield Garrick

Cast members John Phillips, Win Churchill, Maurice Allden, Stefan Dufaye, Ian Parkes, Rose Bodger and Dave Stonehouse

Cast members John Phillips, Win Churchill, Maurice Allden, Stefan Dufaye, Ian Parkes, Rose Bodger and Dave Stonehouse

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this production ever since it was first announced and Chris Stanley’s directorial take on this classic play is no disappointment. One good reason is his decision to use Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s brilliantly updated translation which keeps the play in its nineteenth-century home but makes the action fresh, current and urgently alive. Another plus is that the plot itself couldn’t be more modern, focusing on how big (and small) businesses and green issues inevitably collide.

Its pivotal character is poor, idealistic Dr. Thomas Stockman, powerfully portrayed here by David Stonehouse, who has discovered that the salt and freshwater spas of which he is Director are fatally contaminated by bacteria from the surrounding soil. In speaking out and demanding the problem be expensively remedied he is at first hailed as a saint by his idealistic friend the crusading journalist Hovstad (John Phillips in delightfully weasel-like form) who is keen to exploit the doctor’s report as a class issue.

But instead of being hailed as the town’s saviour he is at once condemned as an enemy of the people by vested interests who see their livelihoods at risk if the baths close. As a result only his own integrity stands between the good doctor, dire poverty and public disgrace. A brilliant directorial touch had his supporters and enemies planted in the audience during the explosive second half. As his witnesses we have a choice to join in and judge his idealistic struggle and maybe ask ourselves what we would do. Is he a simple, unworldly idiot or a public-spirited saint?

This is a play full of great parts which allows the assembled cast to make their own strongly individual marks.

Rosemary Bodger as the doctor’s wife manages to make her loyal support infinitely touching while Jenna James as his daughter Petra shows a feisty defiance entirely in keeping with the role of an educated girl of the late 1800’s. Win Churchill as the doctor’s lodger perfectly caught the tutting complacency of tragedy’s bystander while Richard Bannister as the equivocal printer Aslaksen made convincingly human the role of a man who would like to see fair play as long as it doesn’t affect his own standing as Chairman of the Property Owners’ Association.

Ian Parkes as Peter Stockman the doctor’s priggish bother and town mayor made this stock character true believable flesh. Maurice Allden caught the desperation of the good doctor’s exasperated father-in-law while Stephan Dufaye as Captain Horster created sympathy by showing how in defiance he still had one last friend. Special mention must go however to Stephen Brunton whose inspired drunk was an exquisite counterpoint to the prejudices of the public meeting.

By turns cynical and idealistic, this play which surgically exposes the fault lines in all its characters would be a challenge for any professional company to mount. That the Players succeed so well proves yet again they are the peoples’ own rep. Long may they reign.

An Enemy of the People runs until February 13. For tickets phone the  box office on 01543 412121 or visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

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