The Enemy review – Ibsen thrust into the social media age

By Mark Fisher
Thrillingly splenetic … Hannah Donaldson and Neil McKinven in The Enemy.
Thrillingly splenetic … Hannah Donaldson and Neil McKinven in The Enemy. Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

Lewis den Hertog’s images have the sheen of a corporate video. A mother and child on a water chute smile for the camera. A swimmer ploughs in slow motion across a pool. A couple giggle through a facial treatment in a spa. Projected on the back wall of Jen McGinley’s community centre set, they are a blandly reassuring fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to escape to the Big Splash resort?

You can see why local folk think it’s a good idea. In Kieran Hurley’s play, a reworking of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People provocatively thrust into the age of social media, they are banking on this new holiday centre. If they are to reverse the fortunes of their dead-end west-coast town, it is their only hope. It’ll bring tourists and jobs. It might even earn them the title of City of Regeneration.

All of which makes things tricky for Hannah Donaldson’s Kirsten Stockmann. The scheme was her idea but she has stumbled on an inconvenient truth. Shortcuts during the building of the resort have left the town’s water supply contaminated. People are getting sick.

Armed with the evidence, she becomes the unwanted guest at a party. She could be Chris Whitty abused in the street by a teenager calling him a liar. Or she could be Anthony Fauci lambasted by Covid-19 conspiracy theorists. Perhaps she’s one of the experts Michael Gove tired of, proffering facts that contradict the favoured narrative.

Like those public figures, she faces a toxic combination of people: a politician with a reputation to uphold, a businessman with an income to protect, a journalist with a guilty secret and, above all, a population with no appetite for bad news. Subjected to trial by Twitter, she rounds on the mob with all the tact of a Coriolanus, Donaldson stepping up with a thrillingly splenetic speech, as true as it is self-destructive.

It’s the highlight of Finn den Hertog’s assured production for the National Theatre of Scotland that builds from high hopes to a sorry spectacle of self-interest. It ends where it starts: with public-relations spin.

• At Dundee Rep until 16 October, then touring until 6 November.

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