The Enemy @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Kieran Hurley's reworking of Ibsen's An Enemy Of The People is timely and pertinent, forcing the audience to face a moral predicament

Review by Rachael O'Connor | 27 Oct 2021
  • The Enemy @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh

The Enemy, a National Theatre of Scotland production directed by Finn den Hertog, is Kieren Hurley's reworking of Ibsen's 1882 play, An Enemy Of The People. The plot is the same but its lead character, Dr Stockmann, is now Kirsten (Hannah Donaldson), a single mother with an eclectic past, while higher-flying older sister Vonnie (Gabriel Quigley) is the town provost.

Kirsten and Vonnie have collaborated to build the ‘Splash Resort’ to bring employment and regeneration to their depressed and neglected hometown, and the play opens on inauguration day. Kirsten receives results from tests which show dangerous levels of toxins in the water for the baths and the local tap water, leaking from a waste site and caused by penny-pinching in the development.  

What follows concerns Kirsten's attempt to bring the matter to light. She is prepared to "speak truth to power" but soon discovers that power just isn't interested, especially when jobs, reputations and finances are threatened. Kirsten's frenetic and ineffectual approach is, perhaps intentionally, irritating and the power play between the sisters doesn't quite come through, though there are some moments of palpable tension. When Kirsten challenges Vonnie to drink a glass of the toxic tap water, it reveals just how prepared the older sister is to deceive in order not to lose face. 

The Enemy is an intense play, with just enough humour – notably from town journalist Benny Hovstad (played convincingly by Neil McKinven), and Kirsten Stockmann's 16-year-old daughter, Petra (a very confident Eléna Redmond) – to give us space to breathe. The use of cameras, screens, instant messaging and social media feeds add a much-needed sense of urgency but the play still drags in places with sections of overworked exposition. Occasionally, as in the penultimate scene, the effects dominate and detract from the play's important message and powerful writing, which is a great loss. 

Overall, this is a timely and pertinent re-telling, and forces the audience to face a moral predicament. The original play gives us a conclusion but here we are left to wonder what Kirsten’s course of action will be, and to ask ourselves what we would do in her position. 

The Enemy tours, playing Eden Court Inverness and Perth Theatre, until 6 Nov