If you live in Scotland, you’ll know that we’re fiercely proud of many things, but few things can compare to the pride we have for our tap water. In our opinion, our humble council juice makes our hearts sing. That’s why The Enemy, Kieran Hurley’s brilliant reimaging of the classic Henrik Ibsen play, ‘An Enemy of the People’ is simply perfect. Not just because it resonates with a post-truth world but it’s perfect for Scottish National Theatre, a perfect for 2021 and perfect as a play performed in Scotland for Scottish people returning to our theatres.
Scientist Kirsten Stockman (Hannah Donaldson) has discovered a life threatening bacteria in the tap water of a Scottish town that’s about to open a luxurious water park and become of the UK’s next hot tourist spots. Naturally this discovery should derail the plans, but not if the corrupt journalists, councilors and business people can keep it under wraps.
There’s not a lose screw in this tightly formed ensemble who’s fantastically crafted performances take us through the chaos of the situation who switch effectively from stage performance to video performance with ease. This is particularly true of Taqi Nazeer, who balances convincing screen and stage acting, wonderfully as influencer Aly Alaskan. Donaldson and Elena Redmond are the perfect duo as Kirsten Stockman and her daughter Petra. Donaldson drives the drama with boundless energy, taking us from despair to rage as she issues her damming verdict on a society who have resorted to threatening to kill her on social media. Meanwhile Redmond’s Petra straddles the gap between irritating teenager and voice of reason in an extremely mature and nuanced performance.
The actors with the morally corrupt characters on their hands manage their duplicity characters superbly that the audience are audibly disturbed when the facades crumble. Gabriel Quigley gives a strong performance as Vonny Stockman, local councillor who’s trying to keep her reputation intact, while Neil McKinven’s slimy unpredictable journalist Benny Hovstad hovers between eluding sympathy and instilling repulsion. Billy Mack’s Derek Kilmartin is the highlight, drawing the audience in as loveable old harmless Grandad until his descent into money mad crook.
Supposedly this production was meant to tread our boards in 2020. Talk of schools being off sick, people dying, popularity and economic continuity presiding over cold fact would have seemed ultimately dystopian and just about understandable. We probably would have been bewildered. The C-word or ‘pandemic’ is not mentioned once, but we see too many scenarios and situations throughout that feel far too relatable. Yes, this if all fictional, but the realities of the situation scar to deep. Sadly, a hoard of twitter trolls baying for blood no longer seems like a great imaginative plot device; it’s now a reflection of reality.
The introduction of multimedia and screens is handled superbly in the humdrum of the 70s pinewood clad offices. Previously, a screen hanging over the drama, broadcasting the clandestine meetings of politicians and journalists in secrets would have seemed truly dystopian and Orwellian. But here, it helps to translate even more of the clandestine acts of corruption. it works, and video designer Lewis Den Hertog and set designer Jen McGinley have done a sterling job of incorporating multimedia so realistically without it seeming like a gimmick. Cleverly, they introduce the unseen character, the general public through the screens, in a deluge of live tweet action that leaves us shaken.
The Enemy wouldn’t have been an easy watch in early 2020. And it’s an even harder one to watch now. My opinion is that the best theatre is art that mirrors life or strikes a didactic chord. The Enemy does both.
The Enemy Continues at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh until the 23rd October https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-enemy
Reviewer: Melissa Jones
Reviewed: 20th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★