An Enemy of the People
I’ve made a great discovery. . . and I’ll tell you what it is: the strongest person in the world is the one who stands alone
Dr. Tomas Stockmann.
Henrik Ibsen’s opening play at the newly refurbished Sheffield Crucible, is An Enemy of the People, with Anthony Sher in the role of Dr Stockmann.
It’s a disturbing drama, constituting an attack on democracy and the theory of majority rule, a position with which Ibsen himself had some sympathy.
Stockman, a scientist and an idealist, quite unworldly in this production, almost a natural innocent, discovers that the waters of his Spa town are polluted and poisonous. He immediately wants to go public with this news, shut the Spa down and, at whatever expense, cleanse and reroute the water. But his brother, the Mayor, suppresses the report. The bureaucrats, the local small businessmen’s association, the town newspaper and eventually the workers of the town, turn on Stockman, his family and his friends, and reduce them to penury.
The play works as a forum for ideas. For a modern audience to empathize with Stockmann entirely is almost impossible. He does, of course, stand for truth against the suppression and lies of his brother and the other organs of the democratic process, but he does not understand the need to educate his audience and become instead self-righteous and arrogant and a chilling and contemptuous social darwinist in his remarks about “disgusting, mangy, vulgar mongrels” whose brains don’t develop in the same manner as gently reared pedigree dogs.
On the other hand his sense that truth, any truth, has a limited lifetime, and that time always brings us round to the realisation that what was once true has now become untrue, is never less than fascinating.
And his fear that the suppression of material facts and the acceptance of political lies will lead, inevitably, to a kind of spiritual corruption and decay of society, is a companion to each of us in the twenty-first century.
A disturbing play, then; one that still, in our own time, offers an audience no place to hide.
This production, directed by Daniel Evans, with Antony Sher as Dr Stockmann, in a new version by Christopher Hampton, runs until the 20th March.
If you go out and fight for freedom you should never do so in your best trousers.
Dr. Tomas Stockmann.