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A CurtainUp London Review
Based on an ecological issue, Dr Stockman (Nick Fletcher) as the local doctor discovers that the baths, which he and his brother Mayor Stockman (Darrell D'Silva) promoted, and are a major tourist attraction, have become polluted by the effluent from the local tannery, which is owned by his father in law, Morten Kiil (David Sibley). The hubris here is that Dr Stockman expects he will be greeted as a local hero for making this discovery but instead, everyone has a knee jerk/cover up reaction, undiluted self interest and fearing for the local economy deprived of its tourism.
Miriam Buether's surreal modern, wide and loud, orange wallpaper with natural wood dominated set, commences in the Stockman's home where their largesse is displayed to many as they discuss the economic effect of "the miracle of the baths". To the side is a picture window showing the sunlight on the sparkling lake which seems too good to be true and which is probably the case! Charlotte Randle is the hospitable Mrs Stockman who becomes very aware of the damage to her family's finances if her husband's exposée goes ahead. Petra (Beatrice Walker) is her daughter, a school teacher who has to teach things she doesn't believe in. Meanwhile medical officer of health, Stockman has a revelation to make to his brother, an oily, self serving Darrell D'Silva.
The public meeting is the most exciting event as Dr Stockman involves the whole Young Vic audience with members of the cast mingling in the crowd. Nick Fletcher paces across the wide stage, bearded, his hair flowing like an avenging angel to counter the version put out by his own brother, the mayor. Stockman's most powerful and unfashionable speech against democracy and the decisions taken by the majority involves the lit up audience, except that we don't have the vested interest of the townspeople in keeping quiet, neither do we not believe that a few more tourist illnesses/deaths will inevitably expose the problem and vindicate the whistle blower.
The performances are impressive. Darrell D'Silva's manipulative and corrupt mayor, Charlotte Randle's practical wife and Nick Fletcher's hot headed Dr Stockman fall out in this small community where everyone is related to everyone else.
In the final scene, the Stockmans return to their house which has been trashed by those opposing the doctor and find out that their children's inheritance has been deliberately spent by Morten Kiil on shares in the inevitably failing baths. This is interpreted by the printer Aslaksen (Niall Ashdown) and newspaper editor Hovstad (Bryan Dick) as a clever move by Stockman to buy shares cheaply for which they commend him.
The idealism of the ending makes me want to return to this town in five years to see how everyone has fared. Of course today we would be looking at solutions to the pollution but Ibsen's play never gets beyond the projected costs and the vested interests of those who would be expected to foot the bill. This may not be the greatest of Ibsen's plays which I consider are Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder and A Doll's House but issues of the corruption of public officials and cover-ups and the treatment of whistle blowers, however, never do go away. Well done to the Young Vic for such a relevant and involving production!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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