The Enemy review – Ibsen goes digital

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Kieran Hurley’s take on Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People was about to go into rehearsals in March 2020. What better moment to stage a play about a public health emergency and the tensions between scientist, politicians and media around how to handle it? What worse moment to go into production and be closed down by the pandemic?

Hurley’s adaptation for National Theatre of Scotland, set in the 21st century, feels fresh and immediate – and not just because of the timeliness of its subject matter. Our digitised world, with its numerous means of communication, is given full representation on the stage.

Dr Kirsten Stockmann (Hannah Donaldson), hustling her teenage daughter Petra (Eléna Redmond) off to school, is holding an online meeting with her sister, Vonny the provost (Gabriel Quigley), about the Big Splash beach resort project that makes them forerunners to become the nation’s city of regeneration. On a stage-wide screen above and behind them, the women’s faces are projected in closeup.

As the action continues, projections also allow us to see text exchanges and emails among the six characters, as well as the chatbox comments that accompany podcasts and a climactic, livestreamed meeting. These elements are all skilfully interlaced into the action by director Finn den Hertog, set designer Jen McGinley and video designer Lewis den Hertog.

The production thus, playfully and powerfully, communicates the immediacy and connectedness of our digital world. In doing so, it also highlights a flaw: crucial elements of the plot rely on delay and lack of connectedness. Kirsten has to wait weeks for results of tests that reveal the town’s water supply is poisoned; that supply appears not to be monitored; the townsfolk instantly and en masse accept Vonny’s denial of Kirsten’s findings. I recommend The Enemy with a proviso: be prepared to work to suspend your disbelief.

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