Review: An Enemy of The People

by Jane

Guy OGrady: sitting with class since 1997. Photo by the brilliant photographer and venue and event manager Aaron Schuppan. Adelaide is too small. I love it.

My review for this incredible show by ActNow Theatre for Social Change (just a bit of a mouthful).  Disclaimers I’m sure should follow: I know Sarah Dunn and production manager Megan Huitema, and then, clearly, that night I met a lot more people involved in the show.  And they’re all wonderful.  But that’s not why you should see it, you should see it because it’s good.

This review originally appeared on http://www.australianstage.com.au

ActNow Theatre for Social Change and Sean Riley have taken the very brave choice of presenting Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. The youth theatre company, whose ensemble confidently tackle roles written for actors much older and more experienced then themselves, succeed admirably and deliver a measured and accomplished production.

An Enemy of the People
 has a rather simple narrative: Doctor Thomas Stockmann (Guy O’Grady) discovers the baths, the lively-hood of the city, are supplied by a water source teaming with bacteria. While he originally has the support of city residents, his brother Mayor Peter Stockmann (the assertive Kurt Murray), seeing the economic impact that rectifying the situation would cause, turns the town against Thomas, labelling him “an enemy of the people.”

In-the-round in a parlour room in Ayers House, the artifice of presenting to an audience is removed. By the very nature of the fact that the audience is not only surrounding the acting space, but the space envelops the audience, director Edwin Kemp Atrill has skilfully directed his actors to only exist in the space, and the blocking delightfully appears to be free of constraint through thought to audience perspective. While anything presented in-the-round is of course going to lead to excessive masking of actors,Kemp Atrill and the cast make no apologies for that, leading to a very refreshing presentation in which much pretence is removed.

And while the masking certainly means that you miss many things, and I did find it unfortunate at times, there is something wonderful in this knowledge that every single person in that space is seeing a different play than you. This staging leads to some great moments where, because frustratingly you can’t see the faces of the actors in the scene’s primary interaction, you are forced to focus on, say, Catherine Stockmann (in a touching performance bySarah Dunn) slowly breaking down in the corner. It feels like a point of privilege to be watching this almost private moment; something that I perhaps wouldn’t have noticed if not for the very act of masking forcing me to open my eyes to other things on the stage.

Naturally using the space involves using the existing lighting structures and lamps, which were left on throughout the performance, except, inexplicably, during the curtain call, when it would’ve been nice to properly see and thank the cast. Because of the constant lighting set changes occurred in full light, and worked best when the tail of one scene overlapped slightly with the head of the next. However, due to this naturalism in set and presentation, the use of music, composed by Rory Chenoweth, had a tendency to remove me from the scene. The production became much more powerful when all you could hear was the breathing of the actors, and the ticking of the antique clock.

In the lead role of Dr StockmannO’Grady is the standout amongst a strong cast, and is very much an emerging actor to watch. He gives a nuanced performance, bringing a keen intensity to a role which grows and develops over the arch of the narrative.

Most striking about Ibsen’s play is as we watch it half way through a frustrating 2010 political campaign, is almost 130 years after he penned it the relevance of Ibsen’s work is startling. Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s adaptation of the play, further edited by the ensemble, remains truthful to Ibsen’s text, while being a tight and contemporary adaptation, shedding the stiffness which plagues many earlier translations of his work. Presented in Australian accents, the choice to preserve parts of Lenkiewicz’s cockney slang to indicate class is questionable, even if just a minor quibble.

Beyond being a brilliant production that deserves to be seen fully on its own merits, it is exciting to see theatre of this nature taking a foothold in Adelaide. A young, professional company, bringing us an interesting, challenging, historically important production: this is independent theatre at its finest.

ActNow Theatre for Social Change and Sean Riley present An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, a version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz.  Directed by Edwin Kemp Atril with assistant director Gemma Sneddon, designed by Kate Moore, composition by Rory Chenoweth, production manager Megan Huitema.  With Guy O’Grady, Sarah Dunn, Catherine Story, Kurt Murray, Alexander Ramsay, Nicholas Cutts, Felix Alpers-Kneebone, Alisa Dunlop, and Loki Reef Macnicol.

***

Coming off my post about why we need young voices commenting on the theatre and about 30 minutes after I submitted that review, Barry Lenny posted his review for Glam Adelaide here.  I simultaneously love and find hilarious that the very thing I found the best about the play was the very thing Lenny thought was the worst.

From my review:

In-the-round in a parlour room in Ayers House, the artifice of presenting to an audience is removed. By the very nature of the fact that the audience is not only surrounding the acting space, but the space envelops the audience, director Edwin Kemp Atrill has skilfully directed his actors to only exist in the space, and the blocking delightfully appears to be free of constraint through thought to audience perspective. While anything presented in-the-round is of course going to lead to excessive masking of actors,Kemp Atrill and the cast make no apologies for that, leading to a very refreshing presentation in which much pretence is removed.

From Lenny’s review:

There is a trap in performing in a small, non-theatrical venue in that the actors tend to deliver their lines to one another and not to the audience, which happened here. The lack of projection, coupled with poor diction and rushing lines, ignoring all punctuation, made this a difficult performance to follow. This was worsened by it being performed in the round, as it is even harder to hear what an actor is saying when they have their back to you. This is easily remedied and no doubt will have been corrected by the next performance, acting on comments made by audience members.

Brilliant.  But I don’t know what audience members he was talking to: the ones I was talking to were all agreeing with me.  My favourite thing, I will stress again, was that it just was. No acting to the audience: no making things a little less natural to fit the audience’s expectations that they should be presented to.  It was just honest itself.  And I hope that it wasn’t “corrected”.

And for all my harping on about reviewing: if you thought what I wrote was shit, especially if you were someone I talked to on Wednesday, call me out on it and let me know.  Because I want and need to know your opinion, and I very much want to talk theatre with you again.

Also, if you are reading this, are in Adelaide, and interested in theatre I strongly encourage you to come along to RightAct 10 which these guys are running.  Panels, performances and workshops concerning theatre, politics, activism, performance and social change at Format over the October long weekend.  I’m looking forward to it.

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