The Firehall Arts Centre, until Dec 1
My Two Pence
“Without power what good is the truth”. A powerful statement spoken within this bold production by The Firehall Arts Centre. Based on Henrik Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ and Arthur Miller’s later version, this play has been adapted and updated to reflect a modern setting in the interior of British Columbia. It is always tricky to navigate how to bring a classic piece of theatre up to date, an unenviable task with so many pitfalls. The story is a strong one: hero becoming villain; what do we place importance on? Who holds the power? Is the upholding the truth always the best option?... Director Donna Spencer has called upon "many translations" of the original with the addition of modern idioms and many, many references to social media, interestingly focussing only ever on the "big three" (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which seems a little underresearched and dated even now). The resulting language spectrum is muddled and often jarring.
The performances from the cast of nine, for the most part, were inconsistent, with emotional climaxes being reached in a seemingly forced (or directed) manner rather than coming from an organic build. However, Agnes Tong stands shoulders above with her easy, grounded, naturalistic portrayal of Petra, which is perfectly understated amongst the grand posturing around her. Michael Scholar Jr joins the roll call for mention. Whilst it is expected that there might be a few line wobbles, however, there were a number on this night, and one occasion so prolific that it lead to the audience member next to me muttering “Well Done!” when another actor saved the lost line.
The set is unremarkable, which makes sense when you see there was no set designer; so I am intrigued to know who made the choice to have an impossibly crumpled white drop sheet at the back of the stage continuously playing a rippling water projection. It is just so odd. A nice opening backdrop, but to continue the whole production through? Particularly when there are actors stepping into the range of light where they are transformed with the blue flickering shades.
There are some other things in this show which are equally puzzling. Like the door to the house (somewhere offstage to the left) which is seemingly never locked – fair enough on the day you’re having a house party, not so fair enough on the day when you’re having rocks thrown through your window. Also the structure of the house, we see Kate (Sharon Crandall) leaving during one scene to the left, only to return later in the scene, without comment, on the right… These oversights, or loose ends, lead to the production seeming at any moment a thread away from unfurling.
Whilst the sound design is adequate, there were some missed opportunities by Alistair Wallace to elevate the mundane. The crowd sounds, for example, were just generic and could easily have included a couple of shouts or chant sounds related directly to the situation or the characters in this play. The other problem with stock sounds is they tend to distort when played at higher volumes, as happened in this case and there were also some awkward fadeouts of these canned sounds, including a telephone which continued to ring after being picked up (albeit at a very low volume).
Ultimately, the show does have legs, and in the moments where it does hit its point, you feel it as well. There is a reason why the themes behind The Enemy are so enduring, and certainly by the end you feel the importance of the piece – and isn’t that why we go to the theatre?