Tag Archives: Mary Stewart

“An Enemy of the People” at the Union Theatre

Laudably, award-winning director Phil Willmott likes his classics to have modern-day relevance. The title of Ibsen’s 1882 play, which pitches the individual against the masses, is to be adopted for a season of shows that runs through the first quarter of this year. The idea is exciting – look out for Can-Can! next month and a production of Othello after that – but unfortunately An Enemy of the People itself is not a propitious start.

This adaptation, from none other than Arthur Miller, has Ibsen’s Doctor Stockmann in America and pitted against his community when he discovers that a plan for its economic regeneration, based on a spa, is doomed by environmental pollution. The fit with the original sounds snug but proves uncomfortable. The time and place end up as a kind of allegorical wilderness. The emblematic roles for small businesses (Ibsen’s bourgeoisie) are confusing, and representation of the press also fails. Despite a nice depiction from Jed Shardlow as a mendacious editor, this fourth estate needs updating.

Willmott’s direction is impeccable and, when pressure grows on Stockmann to deny scientific facts, he manages to inject tension. The cast is generally strong, although some accents could be tighter. David Mildon takes the lead role, which, despite being written as ridiculously naïve, he grows into the nicely. And there is admirable support from Emily Byrt as his wife – it’s good to see her doubt and anger at spousal inflexibility. Mary Stewart also does a stand-out job as the town’s mayor, injecting just enough exaggeration into her performance as a politician so that we are never quite sure how self-deluded the character is.  

At least with the mayor, a parallel with a current world leader is clear. It’s the other roles searching for contemporary resonance that prove a problem. Miller’s work on the piece is from the 1950s, while the production’s poster promises us Donald Trump’s America. The treatment feels old-fashioned, the dialogue clunky. There’s talk of radicals, insurgents and free thinking that cries out for refinement. A couple of potentially interesting points – the role of religion and the doctor’s intellectual superiority complex – could have been made far more challenging. Didactic in the original, the message is still clear, but too many annoying details get in the way of any lesson.

Until 2 February 2019


Photo by Scott Rylander.

“The Glass Protégé” at the Park Theatre

A scandalous affair between two leading men in 1940s Hollywood, with the wicked studio system spoiling true love, is the subject of Dylan Costello’s The Glass Protégé. Even if you haven’t seen the play in its previous incarnation, entitled Secret Boulevard, the story seems the familiar stuff of gay folk law. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the project, it’s clearly a labour of love, but what could be a serious story of passion feels trivial and sometimes dull.

David R. Butler plays Patrick Glass (the name a too transparent metaphor), an Oxford-revisited Englishman matched as a stereotype by a red-necked Texan, performed valiantly by Stephen Connery Brown, with whom he falls in love. Despite brave performances, the script doesn’t allow the leads to convince as film stars or lovers, with a romance that goes from tortured angst, via a Mae West impersonation, to a romp and betrayal, far too quickly.

Joining them, Emily Loomes works hard as Candice, a blonde starlet who isn’t dumb at all (are they ever?), while Mary Stewart, who can clearly hold a stage, has little to do as a bitchy gossip columnist who is, well, just a bitch. The play is fussily structured around flashbacks from the near-present day, which are more satisfactory than the potted history, as the older Patrick (Paul Lavers) deals with his demons and his son (Roger Parkins), along with the play’s only intriguing character, an East German immigrant, played well by Sheena May.

While the cast struggles with the script, director Matthew Gould doesn’t help, showing little thought about the small space worked in or the pace of the piece. The biggest problem, though, is the dialogue. The actors’ lines, surely meant to reflect the ‘garbage’ film they are working on, consist of clichés, platitudes and repetition (Hollywood is nasty – we get it). Exposition is clunky and characters merely vehicles. Attempts at profundity ring hollow time after contrived time and the play’s portentousness becomes tiresome.

Until 9 May 2015


Photo by Krisztian Sipos