An Enemy of the People: Post-COVID Adaptation

‘The economy is not in crisis. The economy IS the crisis!’ 

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An Enemy of the People: Post-COVID Adaptation

An Enemy of the People by the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen is about Dr Stockmann, the medical officer of a small town’s newly opened spa. He discovers a health hazard in the water and while trying to warn people about this and keeps being silenced, he comes to face a much bigger contamination, one within society. The German directors Thomas Ostermeier and Florian Borchmeyer’s adaptation’s English version by Duncan Macmillan brings this 1882 play closer to the heart of our post-COVID society.

This play is an underrated classic. Its adaptability across centuries proves how we keep repeating history. Written right after the cholera pandemic, which appears to be the exact condition described in the play, made popular with Arthur Miller’s adaptation after the influenza pandemic and brought to today, after the coronavirus pandemic, it shows that the real problem of us repeating history is the way we are governed and the majority’s wish to preserve the status quo.

I enjoyed this play more and more with every passing second, no dull moment. Dr Stockmann’s speech in the fourth act should be studied at schools as I have never seen another piece of literature brutally reflect today’s society more. While trying to warn the town of the contamination in the water which he has a report to prove, Dr Stockmann keeps being gaslighted into questioning the truthfulness of the truth for the sake of the economy. In his speech, one quote stood out to me above everything, ‘the economy is not in crisis. The economy IS the crisis!’ While there is a situation that threatens the health of people, everyone turns their backs on Dr Stockmann because the government doesn’t have enough money and the people don’t have enough money to pay more taxes; this revelation would risk the ‘livelihood’ of people. While from the seats of the theatre, the whole situation is ridiculous and infuriating, it is poignant to think that this is indeed happening in our world as the truth gets twisted and bent by those in power and the oppressed media.

With modern issues like the cost-of-living crisis brought into the mix, it gave me the feeling of a 2020s version of Rent where we lost the comradeship of the group; it turns into one where everyone is backstabbing each other. As Dr Stockmann says, ‘“Society” has become an abstraction. The invisible bonds between us all have been severed.’

While I don’t need to talk about what brilliant actors Matt Smith and Jessica Brown Findlay are, I could not think of anyone better to bring the characters of Thomas and Katharina Stockmann. Matt Smith’s passion in the play perfectly matches what you would imagine Dr Stockmann’s passion towards this subject is. He completely embodies the character and gives us one of the best performances in modern theatre. Jessica Brown Findlay gives us a fresh perspective on Ms Stockmann as a strong 21st-century woman.

The use of a chalkboard for the set is a creative way of performance, minimising the use of props, enabling more creativity and motion, as well as a dynamic use of the stage.

Sadly, the performances end on 14th April. Get your tickets while you can here and I hope this play comes back to become a part of West End’s long-running shows as it needs more people to watch and re-watch it.

Header Image Credit: Manuel Harlan


Aysel Dilara Kasap

Aysel Dilara Kasap Voice Reviewers

I am a writer, the editor-in-chief of the non-profit creative writing website Feather Pen and a publishing hopeful. I am passionate about books while being a music and theatre enthusiast and generally enjoying all forms of art.

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