“We were completely taken in by it! We really thought that was the mayor!” said one of the audience members at the opening night of An Enemy of the People. This adaptation, written and directed by Rebecca Manson Jones, aims to be immersive and inclusive from start to finish. Those articulate, opinionated characters shaking hands with you in the foyer before the show? That’s the cast. The handouts you receive at interval to read with your glass of wine? That’s to make sure you are fully informed about the issues at stake. The opinionated hecklers at the community debate? That’s the community chorus. The choice of ending? That’s up to the audience.
LtoR – Samuel Lawrence, Rupert Holliday Evans (Mayor), Lawrence Stubbings, Sarah Malin (Dr Stockmann), Matt Ray Brown, Photo credit Geraint Lewis
The Stockmann Family Co-Operative’s new environmentally-friendly skincare range promises to revive the fortunes of a declining town full of empty second-homes, while remaining true to its environmental credentials. But on the eve of the launch, it emerges that one of the suppliers is not as environmentally-sound as it claimed. Delay the project and lose a fortune for the locals, or proceed and cause irreparable climate change, not to mention abandoning principles?
The community chorus device was recently used in The Events, David Grieg’s latest play that stormed the Edinburgh Fringe this year. This show used groups that already knew each other, as they were existing choirs. They also perform and appear as a choir – they sing and they recite. Their presence is very powerful in this show, and has provoked much critical debate.
In An Enemy of the People, the community chorus is formed from as diverse a group of people as possible, and most likely they have not met before. Rebecca Manson Jones travelled to the tour venues earlier this year to workshop the script. The actual lines spoken by the community chorus are taken verbatim from these workshops. So the chorus you see in the show in Bristol are a group of local people who may never have met before, they will be speaking lines that may have evolved in a workshop in Cornwall, Devon, Bristol or London. They will not be appearing as a choir, but they are seated among the audience, in character throughout the show. It could be the person next to you!
The workshops in the script development process started by asking the local actors three questions: where were you born, where do you live, and where do you call home. All these places were then marked on a map. This then lead to a further question of what matters more to you – your local community or the world community.
Rebecca Manson Jones had been following the debate around palm oil for a few years and felt that that this issue around climate change could be the perfect contemporary dilemma for an adaptation of An Enemy of the People.
An Enemy of the People was originally about a town co-operative deciding to invest in a health spa, or baths. Everyone who has seen the original play will remember the scene of community engagement, where all the voices of a community are heard. It is remarkably timeless – as anyone from a grass-roots community action group to a parliamentary committee today will attest.
The Ibsen Scholarship was founded by the Norweigan Ministry of Culture in 2006. One scholarship is given every year, for innovation in productions of Ibsen. It is a generous scholarship and has allowed her to develop the script with the involvement of all the community choruses and also to take the production on tour.
The British are prolific producers of Ibsen, from the major venue-based companies to the West End and the Fringe. It is extraordinary that the prize has never been won before by a British theatre company.
Rebecca travelled to Ibsen’s birthplace, Skein, to receive her award: “The town is full of resonances of Ibsens’s plays. The current mayor is called Hedda. In this small provincial town a world of theatre makers from every continent was gathered, all inspired by the stories and characters of this one man.”