Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Compelling theatrical experience..courageous, engaging and powerful performance”

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Squint & RCWMD- En Folkefiende , Pleasance Dome , August-16-16
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Squint & RCWMD- En Folkefiende From “Edinburgh Fringe Review” August 15th

“Trouble brews when headstrong scientist Tom (the sister of the town mayor Peter Stockmann) discovers a problem. 'En Folkefiende' self-consciously redacts the precise nature of this problem with white noise - but we know that it implicates a massive project, which would put the town's livelihood and the mayor's reputation into serious jeopardy. Tom's dogged determination to expose the scandal leads to a high-stakes sibling rivalry – Tom v Peter, if you will – which collides scientific responsibility for truth with political and economic concerns.

The writing is exquisitely meticulous. As the protagonist, Tom’s perspective is favoured, but Brad Birch's script is fastidious about walking the razor’s edge of impartiality. Meanwhile, the media are not presented as the junkies of sensationalism that most fiction today often portrays them to be. Despite the newspaper's sincere integrity, Tom is circumspect about trusting them, while Peter makes use of their neutrality to spin moral arguments in his favour.

The play's technical centrepiece is a constructed box that serves as the performance stage, enclosed on all four sides with sliding mesh screens that double up as entry points for the actors and as a screen for projection effects. Despite walking into the play not knowing anything about it, I detected an elegant, simplistic Scandinavian aesthetic to the choice of costume and set design – long before the word ‘kroner’ pops up in the dialogue, or before learning that the play is an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’. I was impressed with the subtle clarity that allowed me to be conscious of the play's roots without being explicitly told. In addition, I found the eccentric scene changes bombastically exciting – characters enter and exit the box while the lights change and abstract projection flashes across the screens, driven by agitated live percussion stings that propels the next scene into being. If that is not enough, the box set reveals one more unexpected trick at the play's midpoint.

The perfectly-cast ensemble headlined by Seren Vickers (as Tom) and Connor Vickery (as Peter) deliver highly polished performances. This is clearly the mark of good direction under Andrew Whyment, whose confident and well-executed stylistic production lends the play a breathless immediacy, and succeeds in heating up intellectual and emotional tension as the play progresses.

The only brickbat is that it is missing a third act - but that does not detract from the fact that it is a genuinely compelling theatrical experience, which left me with a buzz for hours after the end. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”

From “Broadway Baby” August 13th

“En Folkefiende, in English, translates as An Enemy of the People, and in this clever and modernised adaptation of Ibsen’s classic tale, Brad Birch has written a scandalous piece that should appeal to a modern audience. Beginning at a dinner party, the plot centres around an issue with the local springs, which is never fully revealed. The personal and the political become irrevocably entwined, and the cast and crew depict small town life in stunning and terrifying detail.

The role of Tom Stockmann, conventionally, is given to a man. However, this part is handled capably by Seren Vickers, who instills her own sense of morality and purpose into the role. Editor of the local paper, Hovstad, is also played by a woman, which introduces the themes of sexism is the workplace and gender roles in modern society. As Stockmann feuds with her brother, the mayor of the town, over the issue with the springs, her moral compass goes slightly askew, and we are led to question how staunch her views are, and if she merely wants to overthrow her brother out of jealousy.

The staging of this adds yet another dimension to the piece. Set inside of a box, with the rest of the cast menacingly watching whichever scenes they are not a part of, there is a sense of unease, as though we are merely eavesdropping on private conversations. As pandemonium builds and scandalous whispers reach the ears of the townspeople, this piece takes on a whole new life, with lighting and sound playing an important role in creating this atmosphere of discontent. However, at times the intensity of the tech can drown out the action onstage, and we strain to hear what is going on. Also, some action seems rushed, with subplots seeming slightly unpolished compared to the main action.

Overall, this is a courageous, engaging and powerful performance. The young cast, in plain view of the audience at all times, create the sensation of being watched. By the end, you’ll wonder which character is the ‘enemy of the people’ whom Ibsen originally referenced.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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