The Enemy is a fast-paced political thriller that reflects our troubled times – even though it was written 140 years ago.
Not that Henrik Ibsen knew of social media pile-ons when he wrote An Enemy Of The People in 1882 – but he was aware of the corruption and power and its human cost.
Now those themes are front and centre of The Enemy, The National Theatre of Scotland’s contemporary Scottish re-imagining of Ibsen’s work, which arrives at Eden Court in Inverness on Thursday October 28 for a three-day run.
The company’s first live production since lockdown comes from the award-winning team of playwright Kieran Hurley – who has written a crackling new script – and director Finn den Hertog who has brought the work right up to the minute.
Finn said: “Ibsen is a very modern writer and the themes (in An Enemy Of The People) are universal and constant. It was written 140 years ago, but the idea of political corruption, of media bullying, of the cost of people’s lives versus economic advantage, all of these things are ever-present.”
Relevant modern piece of theatre
Using Ibsen’s original as its architecture, it is set in a post-industrial Scottish town where a massive redevelopment project promises to restore lost pride, along with jobs, money and prospects.
But when Kirsten Stockman uncovers a dangerous secret she must bring the truth to light, no matter what the cost.
“It’s a modern thriller – a relevant modern piece of theatre,” said Finn. “Don’t worry about the fact it was written for a dead Norwegian. It’s for you, right now.
Finn said The Enemy – which has been winning four-star reviews – explores the idea of expert opinion being pitted against the populist will of people, of experts standing up and saying this is dangerous and you shouldn’t buy into it.
At the time it was being crafted some four years ago, there were clear parallels to be drawn from the Brexit debate. But the production was interrupted by the Covid pandemic which brought a whole new nuance to its themes.
Finn said: “And as the news cycle continues the play becomes more relevant with every passing day. In Ibsen’s original, the people turn on Dr Stockland in a 19th century way, storming the house with pitchforks.
Rabid mob of Twitter can turn on a person
“In our version, that becomes an online mob – an online pile-on – because it happens all the time. It happens to politicians, it happens to celebrities, it happens to normal people. The rabid mob of Twitter or social media can turn on a person and it doesn’t always stop at the confines of the Internet, it spills over into real life.”
The Dundee-born director said The Enemy is not a play about such pile-ons, or about Brexit or referendums or the mishandling of a public health crisis – although that theme is present.
“But it is a play that contains all of those things and the audience will be bringing their own versions of all those things to the piece so they will engage with whatever theme and parts of the story feel most relevant and exciting to them.”
Part of keeping The Enemy relevant is its contemporary look on stage, with film footage being as much a part of the story as the actors on stage to create a multimedia experience that is “funny, smart and goes at a pace.”
Finn said: “We had this desire to make it feel like a political thriller, almost like a piece of TV in some ways, because that’s what people like to consume. When we read (Ibsen’s) story that was what it felt like. So we hope people will be excited by that and feel they want to seem more.”
The Enemy has a stunning soundtrack
As well as the visuals, The Enemy comes with a brooding, stunning soundtrack, courtesy of Inverness-born composer Kathyrn Joseph, a long time friend of Finn’s, who he describes as “insanely talented.”
But when he invited her to score the piece, the singer-songwriter expressed doubts about whether she was up to the task.
“I said, ‘well, you’re one of the most talented musicians I know, of course you can score a piece here’. She sent me rough sketches and voice notes. They were incredible and we just went from there,” said Finn.
“Kathryn’s music has this incredible ability to be really atmospheric, but never imposing. It just feels completely embedded in the work, which is wonderful.”
Finn, who has been in the director’s chair for around seven years since leaving his role as Willie in the TV phenomenon Outlander, said it was great to finally see The Enemy now on stage and touring the country.
“The first day of rehearsals was supposed to be March 23 which, as well all possibly remember, was the first day of the nationwide lockdown,” he said.
Show hopes to help re-open theatres
“So this is a slightly re-imagined version because originally it was going to be going into town halls, it was a vaguely site-specific work. But it has been repurposed to go into theatres because NTS, rightly, wanted to the show out and around Scotland as far and wide as possible and to re-open theatres in a sense.
“It’s brilliant and really exciting to have anything on again after the 18 months we have had, but especially a show that has been brewing for some time and is really special for me.”
The Enemy – which has an ensemble cast of leading Scottish actors, including Hannah Donaldson, Gabriel Quigley, Billy Mack, Taqi Nazeer and Elena Redmond – is at Eden Court’s Empire Theatre from Thursday October 28 to Saturday October 30.
Tickets are available at eden-court.co.uk