An Enemy of the People

AMI JONES is surprised not to have to denounce a production that touches on a lot of familiar tropes with style.

ADC depth George Johnston Ibsen mainshow Mairin O' hagan politics set social commentary

ADC, 1st – 5th November, 7:45pm, £6-10

Dir. George Johnston


I really wasn’t expecting it. Sinking myself into the warm liquid haze of a well-packed audience, I readied myself. Here we go. One man brutally exposing the facade of society. Social commentary written in the nineteenth century, but still strangely pertinent in today’s world. The fight against politics and bureaucracy. We got this. We’ve done this before.

Embarrassing, really. I should have known better. Just as I was getting comfortable in the murky warmth lapping over me from the ADC stage, I slipped and found the deep end.

Or maybe it isn’t that embarrassing, in hindsight. Director George Johnston and his beautifully cast collection of actors lured me in before pulling me under sharply. The play begins ever so prettily. (And God it was nice to see a decently constructed set up there. It’s not often I find myself rifling through the programme to find tech credits, but Technical Director Sian Jones has definitely earned her mention in this review.)

The pretty centrepiece family of three in their pretty little house with their pretty, clever guests. The delicate Norwegian dolls in their little doll’s house (haha) bloom and expand before the audience’s eyes, until they are barely containable by the claustrophobia of the tiny town outside the walls of the house. Barely perceptible tension seeps into the auditorium, seizing muscles and curling toes before an explosive climax.

A powerful play needs powerful actors to keep it intact, and Tom Russell, Mairin O’Hagan and Rozzi Nicholson-Leiley (the husband, wife and daughter of the central Stockmann family respectively) deliver performances tempered by a restraint rare in young actors, teasing out every moment of understated tension until the last possible minute. Tom Russell, in his Cambridge debut, is definitely one to watch. There is a moment where, surrounded by chaos, he glances out across the auditorium, with nothing more than a twitch of facial muscle which cries out louder than anything else onstage.

Quentin Beroud, as the Machiavellian town mayor, flickers exhilaratingly on the line between pantomime villain and darkly realistic cynicism, while Ned Carpenter as slippery journalist Hovstad brilliantly subverts and re-subverts not just the character’s but the audience’s opinion of him until his very last appearance onstage.

George Johnston also deserves much credit for some of the most convincing portrayals of middle-agedness I have seen so far from twenty-something-year-old university students. Bitter mid-life cynicism doesn’t slop over into melodrama, and youthful energy and naivete is carefully tempered out without shattering the illusion.

While the drama was beautifully meted out, it seemed to have exhausted itself by the end, wheezing and scuttling out hurriedly rather than ending on an impact. And though Jeff Carpenter’s soundtrack was of professional quality, it unfortunately sounded tinny and strained, irritating more than adding to the atmosphere.

But those were just a few slips in an otherwise smooth evening. Book your ticket now, and watch out for that deep end.