Venue: National Museum of Singapore (Singapore), Jan 8 – 11, 2014
Playwright: Henrik Ibsen (Mandarin translation by Nelson Chia)
Director: Nelson Chia
Actors: Rei Poh, Mia Chee, Hang Qian Chou, Neo Hai Bin, Jean Toh
This is a story about truth, greed, and democracy. Originally published in 1882, its central themes remain relevant and powerful. The play capitalises on our fundamental need to seek not only for truths, but also for personal materialistic gain, and of course the struggle between the two. Nelson Chia’s translation is faithful to the original, and his direction of the text is a straightforward one. There is an emphasis on giving Ibsen’s work and ideas absolute focus, with no obvious liberties taken for updates or reinterpretations. What results is a kind of language and “period” tonality that is fascinatingly quirky. It is simultaneously realistic yet unusual, which gives the production a sense of wonder and theatricality. Visual design elements should also be noted for their effectiveness and refinement.
Performances are committed and disciplined. A sense of polish and measuredness permeates the proceedings, and the precision at which the story is told gives the show not only an air of professionalism but also a rare beauty. Lead man Rei Poh steals the show with moments of flamboyance and pomposity. His portrayal of the hero invites doubt, and disallows convenient certainty, giving the play a complexity that necessitates thought and discussion. The cast of five is a young one, but there is no question that they take this work seriously. This however, comes at the cost of the depiction of sarcasm and delivery of humour, which are evident in Ibsen’s writing. The ensemble’s attention on plot and realism does make the story crystal clear, but some of the comedy seems to have been sacrificed in the process. Perhaps a slightly exaggerated sense of performance could be introduced, so that the play’s farcical nature can be elevated.
An Enemy Of The People is a political story, but the production does not use it to push forth with a simple reading of social mechanics. Indeed, it portrays politics and economies as being problematic by nature, and hence, ambiguities lay central to our existences. It is to the company’s credit that these complex ideas are presented with simplicity, succinctness and a lot of elegance.