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An enemy lurks beneath

Unifaun Theatre looks at the dilemma between politics, morality and family ties

Philip Leone Ganado’s Aslaksen and Simone Spiteri’s  Hovstadt discuss Tom Stockmann’s revelations in En Folkefiende – An Enemy of the People. Photos: Christine Joan Muscat Azzopardi

Philip Leone Ganado’s Aslaksen and Simone Spiteri’s Hovstadt discuss Tom Stockmann’s revelations in En Folkefiende – An Enemy of the People. Photos: Christine Joan Muscat Azzopardi

Theatre
En Folkefiende – An Enemy of the People
Blue Box, Msida

In a very clever move given our current political climate, Unifaun Theatre has chosen to put up a new adaptation by Brad Birch of the Ibsen classic, En Folkefiende – An Enemy of the People, at Blue Box in Msida.

The choice was a wise one because it has a freshness to it that doesn’t fade, whether the setting is the Victorian one of the original, written in 1882, or a contemporary one – as in Birch’s adaptation – with the Scandinavian lines of Romualdo Moretti’s set cast into relief by Chris Gatt’s strong lighting.

Toni Attard’s direction marshalled a slightly unbalanced cast in a very poised piece and managed to compensate for some of the inconsistencies in the strength of performances.

Tom Stockman (Mikhail Basmadjian) has only been back in town for a couple of years, having been appointed as medical advisor to the town spa board by his brother Peter Stockman (Anthony Ellul). Basmadjian’s performance as Tom Stockman is riveting and he proves once again that his adaptability is excellent. I was not as keen on Ellul’s Peter Stockman – as his performance came across as rather too contrived and his accent wavered. He did however, create enough tension with Basmadjian’s Tom to cause the deep discomfort which the other characters felt.

An Enemy of the People never ceases to be a talking point and promises to provide good grounds for discussion

In finding a problem with the water quality, Tom warns his brother, who urges caution and a very slow approach – thinking more of his own political career and the town’s expenses than the citizens’ safety. What was particularly striking was the sound effect use to omit any actual explanation of what was wrong – so that the problem remained shrouded in mystery.

By mixing family ties with politics and power, driving them together and binding them with moral and ethical dilemmas based on what is true and good and what is convenient, Ibsen and Birch create the driving force of this play.

Mikhail Basmadjian’s Tom Stockmann (left) challenges Anthony Ellul’s mayor.Mikhail Basmadjian’s Tom Stockmann (left) challenges Anthony Ellul’s mayor.

Antonella Axisa’s Kate Stockman, Tom’s wife, comes across as loyal and defensive, but also concerned about their future, and keeps her brother-in-law Peter and her own brother Morten Kill (Victor Debono) in check, in spite of their both having vested interests in the town spa and the surrounding land.

Axisa also sustained the tension, in spite of an occasional lack of clarity. Tom and Kate’s daughter Petra (Raquel Theuma) gave her father the advice that a young and idealistic young woman would: to do the right thing. Theuma was rather wooden in her approach and has much to learn, contrasting with Jean-Marc Cafa’s bumbling and earnest Billing – who admires her father and represents those who will accept what the authorities say.

Tom threatens his brother by going to the press and speaks to local newspaper editor Hovstad (Simone Spiteri) and later the owner of the paper, Aslaksen (Philip Leone-Ganado), who bring in the dilemma that the press has of divulging information and running with a story – citing adequate evidence, lawsuits and the control exerted by higher authorities as hampering their pursuit of the truth. Both Spiteri and Leone-Ganado gave solid performances which were nuanced enough to show both their dilemma and expose the control and interference of the authorities in the free press – creating the scenario of a catch-22 where you’re damned if you publish and damned if you don’t.

With rising tension never abating in the performance and feuds between personal morals, family ties and public ambition, An Enemy of the People never ceases to be a talking point and promises to provide good grounds for discussion. A good meaty play to watch.

En Folkefiende – An Enemy of the People is being staged at Blue Box, Msida on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm.

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