This won't be a typical IbsenBei Le Ng

I chatted with the production team of An Enemy of the People and found out about their unique vision for this Ibsen classic.

Bethan: What drew you to this play in particular?

“The message of the play is still so relevant today”

Magdalena (director): The first time I saw this play was when I was 16, back home in Poland. It was a staging that, like my production, attempted to modernise the play, and connected the issues of the play with themes of human involvement in the environment in a very blunt and direct way by allowing the main actor to break character and deliver a monologue about air pollution. I think An Enemy of the People is perfect to think about other, innovative ways we can represent, ask questions, and engage with those environmental issues. We are in a moment in time where film, media, and art in general is trying to engage with this new crisis. The most recent example I can think of is Adam McKay’s film Don’t Look Up. Looking at the response to that film, it’s clear that some ways of trying to engage with this global crisis are not always well-received! I thought that this production would be a great opportunity to look for less obvious and less ‘in-your-face’ dramatic representations of how we can think about climate issues.

Dylan (assistant director): I read the play a few years ago in English A-Level. I have mixed feelings about that course, but the play is great! The characters have a nice degree of nuance and flexibility. They’re not stereotypes of an idealist, a pragmatist, or a politician. The message of the play is still so relevant today, especially the idea of a battle between truth and politics. This play could be performed in any time period and any country, and it would still cause debates.

Bethan: This play is very famous; some consider it a classic. What sets your production apart from this play’s long history of performances?

Magdalena: That long history is part of the reason I chose Ibsen: the audience enters the theatre with a set of expectations because of the fame of both the playwright and the play. I want to play with the expectation of a modernised Ibsen play being minimalist and intense, and to introduce themes that no one would associate Ibsen with, like childishness and play.

The production promises playful fun alongside serious questionsBei Le Ng

Bethan: When I think about Ibsen, I definitely don’t think about “play” or “fun”, so it will be interesting to see what you do with that! How about rehearsals? Have you been using any exciting techniques?

Dylan: I’ve had so many new ideas from seeing the cast interact with one another. The first time I heard Joe [Harrington] (Dr Stockmann) deliver his absolutely massive monologue in the fourth act of the play, it completely changed the way I thought about the character. Rehearsals have been going really well. We’ve been working with child actors as well, which I’ve never done before, and I think it’s a unique thing for Cambridge productions to do. It gives another dynamic to rehearsals.

Magdalena: I’m a first-time director at Cambridge, so I walked into this experience with the intention to listen, learn, and provide space for something to be created collaboratively, and I think that worked in rehearsals very well. The way Joe and Iona [Rogan] (Pavla Stockmann), who play siblings, are able to bounce ideas off each other is amazing. Working with the child actors is so fun as well. We’ve had one rehearsal with them and they’re absolutely wonderful. Directing child actors is a new experience for me, but it’s very rewarding. The kids are very talented!

Bethan: You’re right, child actors are not something you see a lot in Cambridge theatre. My final question is as the audience is walking out of the theatre, what do you want them to be thinking, feeling, or talking about?

“We hope to break down the barrier that often exists between the audience and the stage”

Magdalena: I would like them to walk out with more questions than answers. I want to go against that tendency for media that engages with environmental issues to be straightforward and only emphasising one message. I want the audience to be inspired to think about everything that the play touches on: politics, democracy, and the limitations and possibilities of activism. I would be happy if people walked out of the play arguing, asking questions, frustrated about some things, and happy about not being preached to.

Bei (producer): I hope it will be lots of fun for the audience as well!


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Magdalena: There is a bit of audience participation that we hope will break down the barrier that often exists between the audience and the stage. Ibsen is a very dialogic playwright, but we want that dialogic energy to spill out into the audience and to make them feel that they are part of it as well.

Dylan: It’s going to be amazing to see what happens. You can’t quite predict what the audience’s response is going to be, and that’s really quite exciting.

An Enemy of the People runs from the 1st to the 5th of February at the ADC. Buy your tickets here.