Left - Guy O’Grady
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 by Sarah 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 Stockmann, O’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 & Sean Riley present
An Enemy Of The People
by Henrik Ibsen | a version by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Director Edwin Kemp Attrill
Venue: Ayers House Museum, 288 North Terrace, Adelaide
Dates/Times: August 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 @ 7pm
Tickets: $17 Students/Conc/Fringe Benefits, $22 Full
Bookings: www.actnowtheatre.org.au | Ayers House Museum 8223 1234 Tuesday + Thursday 10am – 4pm