Review Round-up: Critics Make Friends with Enemies
Date: 15 May 2006
Almeida artistic director Michael Attenborough directs David Hare’s new version of Maxim Gorky’s rarely performed 1906 play Enemies. Originally outlawed in his native Russia, Gorky’s drama is set on a provincial family estate where the liberal-minded owner’s business partner is killed in a scuffle with one of the estate’s militant factory workers.
The 20-strong cast – one of the largest in the history of the 320-seat venue – features Sean Chapman, Sean Gilder, Stephen Noonan, Amanda Root, Jack Davenport and Amanda Drew.
Critics were unanimous in their praise of the production. In addition to the strong cast and direction, they were impressed by Hare’s adaptation of Gorky’s original text, which, they said, despite being influenced by Chekhov, gives a new perspective on the breakdown of society in Russia in the early 1900s.
Enemies opened on 11 May 2006 (previews from 5 May) and continues its limited season until 24 June 2006.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com - “Michael Attenborough’s revival… reveals a play of panoramic vision and remarkable detail… Whereas in Chekhov you sense turmoil on the horizon like a distant thundercloud, in Gorky it is actually happening under our noses.” He particularly admired “the grittiness and guile of Hare’s text, and the performances of Jack Davenport as the wastrel brother, Graham Turner as a mischievously perceptive clerk, Amanda Root as Bardin’s pulverised, pretentious wife and Stephen Noonan as a chillingly determined lawyer”.
Benedict Nightingale in the Times - “Imagine a collaboration between Gorky’s great friend, the Chekhov of The Cherry Orchard, and our own David Hare, and you have the play’s social scope and emotional generosity, its spirit of inquiry, humorous observation and barely disguised commitment.” Nightingale also commended the cast: “Somehow the leading members of Michael Attenborough’s cast manage to come alive while representing the day’s social attitudes… you can’t fault a capacity for empathy that acknowledges the nerves, the fear, the defensiveness that shape people who can’t afford to see the humanity of their supposed inferiors.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian - “Although Maxim Gorky's play, written in exile in 1906 after St Petersburg's Bloody Sunday, has echoes of the master (Chekhov), it exists brilliantly in its own right. And what it deals with is not merely the enmity between classes, but the factions within the decaying bourgeoisie… One of the many virtues of David Hare's shining new version is that it clarifies Gorky's plot. But Hare also pins down the fact that this is a society in turbulent transition… The play is full of historic ironies, beautifully brought out in Michael Attenborough's production.” He noted: “In a 21-strong cast, there are no weak links.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent - Taylor “unreservedly recommended” the production, giving it a five-star rave. “One of the first dramas to deal with industrial unrest, Enemies offers a panoramic view of a society in a state of rapid, paranoid change.” He praised David Hare’s “brilliantly pointed adaptation” and Michael Attenborough’s “superb production” and declared that “the crack 20-strong cast offer the richest display of ensemble acting in London.”
- by Caroline Ansdell
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