Q&A: An Enemy of the People

Tarragon Theatre's Richard Rose rediscovers the power of Ibsen in our times

Presented by Tarragon Theatre
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Adapted by Florian Borchmeyer
Translated by Milisavljevic
Directed by Richard Rose

Richard Rose. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Tarragon Theatre kicks off its 2014/2015 season this week with the English language premiere of Florian of Borchmeyer's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People. Written in 1882, Ibsen's eerily relevant parable echoes questions of today as it grapples with how we balance our conscience and our comfort.

Tarragon's international playwright-in-residence, Maria Milisavljevic, translates Borchmeyer's adaptation which sets the classic but timely drama in a 21st-century spa town. In the play, Dr. Thomas Stockmann makes a shocking discovery, but to go public with his test results will spell the end of his town's prosperity. The people don't know that the local baths are contaminated with industrial waste, and if the world finds out, it will send the community into economic collapse.

Tarragon's production features an accomplished cast, including Tom Barnett, Joe Cobden, Matthew Edison, Brandon McGibbon, Richard McMillan, Tamara Podemski and Rick Roberts. Here, we chat with Tarragon Artistic Director Richard Rose to find out more about his experience directing this culturally and politically significant show.

Theatromania: Tell us about An Enemy of the People. How would you describe Florian Borchmeyer and Thomas Ostermeier's adaptation of Ibsen's play in a few sentences?

RR: When I saw this adaptation and production at the Schaubühne in Berlin, this adaptation and production spoke directly the struggles of our time and country. There was an immediate resonance of the environmental criseseverything from the tar sands to Walkerton to the cod fisheries. But it approaches not the crisis but the politics about how we cope with these evident and provable problems and how democracy seems to be ruled by the principle of the economy, the debt, the deficit. In the end it becomes clear that truth is the enemy of the people.

Theatromania: Why did you choose to present this work as part of the 2014/15 season?

RR: Recognizable and relevant, this adaptation is not just good and bad guy theatre; it looks at the complexity of how we, as a democracy, function. It puts the notions of economic principles being the overwhelming rhetoric of our democratic institutions centrestage. Where are our other values that have nothing to do with debt or deficits? Why aren't we prepared to make those sacrifices? In the final speech of the Bath's Medical Officer, Thomas Stockmann speaks a searing indictment that brings these issues home. A fabulous moment of theatre in their version of the show.

Theatromania: What are some of the challenges in staging this particular piece?

RR: Two things:

1) I want to stay true to the spirit of their adaptation/production that I experienced and yet I want to bring the creativity of the Tarragon company into it. Where I can use what their show was as inspiration, rather than imitation, I find works best; so in fact we are doing a rendition of their show.

2) Working on the English translation to find how the original Ibsen and some of the German language can be moved to Canadian English of our day.

Theatromania: Did you learn anything new or surprising about Ibsen during this process?

RR: He defines the word universal. What happened then, remains true nowacross time and nations and culture. Recently we went back to read a literal version of the original Ibsen. The language may be clunky or use too many words to express the thoughts, but the gist of what he says simply rings "true."

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this experience?

RR: I don't think the audience will ever think again that Ibsen is at all stodgy; they will see him as a vibrant author of our times. And thanks to this new version of his play, shifting the age of characters/new situations etc., it makes this story part of our time. People are going to argue about what is right and wrong with our political systems and, most importantly, what is the tension between self-interest and the democratic process. They are going to argue about what are the principles that we make our electoral and political decisions on. "It's the economy stupid" becomes the primary principle upon which we make democratic decisions. Have our systems of political interaction been reduced to this?

An Enemy of the People runs from September 16 to October 26 at Tarragon Theatre. Visit tarragon.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2014-09-16 - Sun, 2014-10-26


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