The Enemy

Oct 21 2021 | By More

★★★☆☆      Fussy

King’s Theatre: Wed 20 – Sat 23 Oct 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Enemy, Kieran Hurley’s updating of Ibsen for The National Theatre of Scotland at the King’s this week, is an uneven proposition. Much of the production is timely and compelling, and the acting is excellent, but other elements cohere less convincingly.

This version of An Enemy of The People sees two of the central characters changed to women. Hannah Donaldson plays Kirsten Stockmann, whose discovery of contamination in the water supply threatens the opening of an upcoming spa resort and water park in an unnamed Scottish town. This will not only impact her sister, local Provost Vonny (Gabriel Quigley), but scupper the planned regeneration of the town and the boost to employment the scheme offers.

Hannah Donaldson. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Hurley’s play sticks fairly close to the original, which is simultaneously the production’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

A strength because (although Ibsen himself reportedly had doubts about how successfully it worked as a straight drama) the play is a remarkably resilient one. Hurley’s version is taut, and his dialogue sharp and urgent.

A weakness because the updating is inconsistent and at times unconvincing. For example, the character of Hovstad (Neil McKinven), although it is not explicitly stated, still appears to be a journalist on a local newspaper – organs which in 2021, for good or ill, have a negligible impact on driving local opinion, even where they still exist.

zeitgeisty and buzzwordy

Taqi Nazeer’s Aslaksen, meanwhile, is reimagined as ‘a pop star with a podcast’, simultaneously releasing content across ‘Insta, Twitter and TikTok.’ It seems zeitgeisty and buzzwordy, but his actual standing is so nebulous as to defy description. The same could be said for the award for ‘UK City of Regeneration’ that the resort opening will apparently lead to.

Gabriel Quigley. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Instant opinions on the characters can be provided via social media, yet we are asked to believe that Kirsten kept her suspicions hidden while waiting for the ‘several weeks’ it apparently takes to send an email with the results of the water test.

The delay to the production, originally intended for last year but overtaken by real-world events, has had two unfortunate effects. The first is that the subject matter seems almost unbearably topical, with science undermined by politicians seeking short-term gain. However, the parallels are superficial, with the wilful blindness shown to scientific fact in many ways more redolent of the climate emergency.

A second unfortunate side-effect is the way the production comes across technically. Much use is made of Lewis den Hertog’s video design on several screens (one of them massive, towering over Jen McGinley’s well realised set).


So many of us have spent so much time looking at plays on screen in the last 18 months that we are going to need some convincing to look at more of them when we are back in the theatre. (Anyone as yet absent from live performance should be reassured not only by the assiduous wearing of face coverings here, as well as the provision by the NTS of distanced rear-stall seating).

There has got to be a very good reason for characters that we can already see talking on stage also being shown on a screen above their heads, and this production fails to find it. The effect, furthermore, would be distracting enough if the sound and picture were synchronised properly; when they are not, it is more than a little annoying.

Elena Redmond, Billy Mack. Pic :Mihaela Bodlovic

While some of the onscreen content has great impact – in setting the scene, or in providing a reflection of the abuse social media can inflict on women in particular – much of it is unnecessary.

It is noticeable that the most highly charged scenes are those where the video effects are completely absent. These include Donaldson and Quigley’s electric confrontation in the central part of the play, and the later scene with Kirsten, her daughter Petra (Eléna Redmond) and her former father-in-law, businessman Kilmartin (Billy Mack).

Once quibbles about the updating and staging are put aside, much of this is arresting. Donaldson’s driven yet fragile scientist and Quigley’s politician are both nuanced, human and thoroughly convincing.

moral centre

McKinven elevates his sozzled old hack above the stereotype. Nazeer’s influencer has genuine energy, while Mack can turn on a sixpence as the seemingly unworldly doting grandfather who is actually a frighteningly sharp operator.

Hurley has turned the character of Petra from an adult to an opinionated teenager and in many ways has made her the moral centre of the play. The character could easily have ended up as insufferable, but is finely drawn and Redmond’s performance is carefully pitched.

Finn den Hertog’s direction is elegant, and although some of the lighting and movement comes across as over-fussy, the end result is expressive. The infelicities of the updating and the technical overkill do impact on the production, but much of it is impressive nevertheless.

Running time 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Wednesday 20 – Saturday 23 October 2021
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here

Touring to:
EDEN COURT: Thu 28 – Sat 30 Oct
PERTH THEATRE: Wed 3 – Sat 6 Nov
Further details:

Hannah Donaldson, Neil McKinven. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic


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  1. Tom says:

    I disagree about the social-distancing measures put in place here. Seats in the rear stalls at the King’s are the worst in the house. Last night (Saturday) there were acres of empty seats (even allowing for full closure of the Upper Circle); it would have been possible to have full social-distancing throughout, and at no cost to box office revenue.

    The same is true across at the Festival Theatre. A glance through the various seating plans show almost completely empty houses as far ahead as the eye can see. While there has been a belated attempt to provide some social-distancing, it is only if you’re prepared to sit in the Upper Circle, and only for some shows. It’s like you’re being handed a punishment for being cautious about returning to the theatre! Meanwhile, the stalls and circle remain empty.

    Our orchestras have made a better fist of this. At the opening of the SCO autumn season, the Usher Hall was fully socially-distanced, and packed to the rafters. Yes of course there were empty seats throughout, but it didn’t feel like it, as folk were spread throughout the house, up (all three levels), down, and sideways. It felt great.

    There is a lesson for our theatres here. Folk could return in numbers if they feel their health is being prioritised, but not if they are being relegated to the most difficult to sell parts of the house.