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Review Round-up: Young Vic revives Ibsen's Public Enemy

By • West End

Richard Jones' production of Ibsen's Public Enemy opened at the Young Vic this week (13 May 2013).

The play follows a doctor's discovery of his town's toxic water supply and the drama that unfurls in a story of corruption, pollution and courage. The cast includes Nick Fletcher, Darrel D'Silva and Charlotte Randle.

It runs at the Young Vic until 8 June 2013.

Michael Coveney
Whatsonstage
★★★★

…The production - which races by in one hundred uninterrupted minutes - unlocks all the excitement of Ibsen without looking anything much like an Ibsen play, a trick Jones alone can pull off… his wife, hilariously and sarcastically played by Charlotte Randle… What is brilliantly captured is this double-edged nature of Stockmann's campaign… Jones' production is designed by Miriam Buether to resemble some big Scandinavian sauna with a glittering vista of lakes and mountains through windows that are unceremoniously smashed in the last act after Stockmann has told the mob that the minority is always right. You could hear the audience both heaving inwardly with agreement and joining in a round of silent catcalls.

Michael Billington
Guardian
★★★

David Harrower's new 100-minute version of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, directed by Richard Jones, is problematic as well as provocative… Harrower has carefully compressed Ibsen's storyline… Here, however, nothing seems quite right… Nick Fletcher is a perfectly decent Stockmann… There is lively support from Darrell D'Silva as the bullying mayor, Niall Ashdown as a nervous printer and Charlotte Randle as a pensively sceptical Mrs Stockmann. But although Miriam Buether has come up with an extraordinary set – all stripped pine, garish austerity and twinkling trees – it takes more than clever design to make this a play for today. I suspect one would have to trim Stockmann's rhetoric and totally rewrite Ibsen's plot for the modern world…

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard
★★★

…The subject matter is today more pertinent than ever… Richard Jones is a director whose work typically offers a mix of visual flair and psychological acuity. Yet in trying to capture the comic density that Ibsen brings to distinctly un-comic material, he makes the play seem almost cartoonish. The use of strobe lights is one of several conceits that are too abrasive. The supporting cast is vigorous, with Bryan Dick catching the eye as the unreliable journalist Hovstad, but the characters don’t feel richly drawn. Meanwhile Miriam Buether’s set, full of curious details, doesn’t present a coherent vision of the world they inhabit… Here, for all Fletcher’s passion, this rhetoric falls short of causing shock and awe.

Charles Spencer
Telegraph
★★★★

…There are even a few moments that raise a laugh, for this is about as close as Ibsen got to a comedy in his mature masterpieces… It has to be said that in Jones’s staging this dramatic confrontation seems a touch under-powered… Nick Fletcher’s long-haired beardie of a doctor has just the right mixture of innocence and messianic fervour… There are fine performances too from Darrell D’Silva as the corrupt local mayor, and from Bryan Dick and Joel Fry as a pair of weasel-like journalists. Watching this fresh and entertaining production, it is hard to believe that the play was written in 1882, so resonantly does it chime with today’s environmental concerns. One might almost describe it as fracking topical.

Libby Purves
The Times
★★★

…Richard Jones directs it as a 100-minute frenzy with exits, entrances and scene changes achieved with violent energy, stampeding footsteps and a furious staccato score… Compared to the vapidities of some newer agit-prop, this is a class act. I longed to garland it with praise and affirmations that Ibsen would have loved it. He might. Its weakness is that psychology and family conflict are drowned by gale-force ranting… Fletcher is so hectic so quickly that it becomes a one-note cartoon. A good one, and to be fair Ibsen himself said he didn’t know whether he’d written a satirical comedy or a straight drama. It still hovers, a touch awkwardly, between those two states. Fun, though.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail
★★★★

…The play is given a vividly colloquial outing at London’s Young Vic in a version by David Harrower… Richard Jones’s production whizzes by in 100 minutes without an interval… Niall Ashdown is equally fine as the newspaper’s printer... One missed note is a scene when Stockmann’s wife decides to support him. Charlotte Randle’s performance as the wife is interestingly subtle but at this point too muted. Such a compressed version of this play may lose the slow build-up and therefore a certain measure of dramatic tension but the political contradictions of censorship for the ‘public good’ (I nearly wrote ‘herd immunity’) are sharply drawn and thoroughly watchable.


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