Anna Glynn, Joint Artistic Director of Flintlock Theatre, tells us why they chose to re-imagine Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People. The show is here 2 – 6 October.
We love reaching new audiences by taking classic texts and making them fresh and accessible. When planning new work, we’ve typically started by thinking about the texts that excite us, playing with ideas and seeing what emerges. This time, global events were so extraordinary, we knew we needed to find a piece that responded to the daily headlines charting the rise of populism and the emergence of the post-truth world we’re now living in.
In An Enemy of the People, Ibsen seems to have anticipated the contemporary climate of Brexit, Trump, climate change denial, fake news and social media bubbles. In the play, a life-threatening public health crisis is covered up despite the cold hard data that proves it’s real and the whistleblower is branded “an enemy of the people” and hounded out of town. The U.S election and the rhetoric at Trump rallies; the demise of the Paris climate change agreement; Brexit; the re-emergence of Andrew Wakefield and the MMR debate – the list goes on. The parallels to the events of recent times are startling. Something Ibsen didn’t address within the play was the experience of women. In the main, they’re side notes to the drama played out between powerful male protagonists. We’ve tackled that by incorporating a gender switch for our central character. Dr. Thomas Stockmann becomes Dr. Tamsin Stockmann, and that simple shift enables us to explore how women in the public eye are treated. In line with Ibsen’s original, she’s also a member of the elite and it’s been fascinating to think about how privilege both benefits an individual and can be used as a weapon against them.
A dimension we’ve involved that wasn’t part of Ibsen’s world is social media, although a battle for the attention of the traditional media is central to the power struggles at the heart of the play. Given that our version has been updated to 2018, it felt important to involve the technology that, for better or worse, is shaping our lives. We’ve recently completed a research and development process in preparation for the full show and it’s been fascinating, and disturbing, to scrutinise the personas we create via social media and the networks we build that insulate us from the experiences of people who are different to us. Our aim is to make our audience feel a part of the world of the show and for them to leave the theatre asking as many questions as the show answers.
We’re excited to bring Ibsen’s piece into the 21st century and to put a Flintlock spin on this startlingly prescient masterpiece. Most of all, we can’t wait to share some home grown work with Oxford audiences and see what they make of it.