‘An Enemy of the People’ by Alvis Hermanis

‘An Enemy of the People’ by Alvis Hermanis
Gints Mālderis, scene from ‘An Enemy of the People’
14-05-2013 A+ A-
Tuesday, May 14, saw premiere of the second new staging in this season by Alvis Hermanis in Latvia – director’s take on Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘An Enemy of the People.’

It is a 19th century intrigue transposed to contemporary office setting – complete with   wine dinners, sweet-faced vitriolic banter, sushi, and coffee takeaways, where pressing questions are emphasized – questions like ‘Is model of democratic society workable for us?’ and ‘Can majority be right?’ We put these questions to journalist Ieva Alberte, composer Jēkabs Nīmanis and young director Jānis Znotiņš after the premiere.

„This performance should be more publicized. It is open to a small audience at the moment. It is a neatly and precisely crafted work. Like in the old times – touring the country cultural centers would not work; the media are needed. This performance should be run on news, simply on news. People turn the tv on to watch – well, what is going on in politics? And see this as televised theatre,’ Jēkabs Nīmanis is laconic.

But will people understand; will they be able to read it? Jēkabs Nīmanis is convinced that there is nothing that can be mistaken in this staging, it is straightforward. ‘Everybody knows that this is the state of the matters. A sort of social theatre; no particular jokes, you get them only for as much as actors create, but you never have to take them as entertainment. Truth is very, very serious. You get sadder by every minute as you watch,’ composer reveals his first impressions.

Asked the question posed by the performance – Whether majority can be right? – Nīmanis notes that it depends on what kind of majority – how educated and how influenced from outside – it is. The question is not whether majority is right, but whether or not it is right in a given society. ‘I have often dealt with situations when majority is absolutely wrong,’ Jēkabs Nīmanis notes.


‘It is very modern; I cannot believe it is Ibsen, but I liked it in general,’ journalist (magazine ‘IR’) Ieva Alberte shares her impressions after the dress rehearsal. ‘New Riga Theatre actors had not been seen in suits and ties. Like classmates, dressed up for a high-school prom. The solemnity alone made it feel good.

However, I had a sense that they cannot quite pull off wearing those suits and, therefore, fail to act the office people believably. I know that many theatre lovers will disagree with me and say that it is not the most important thing in theatre and that reality is not what you have to look for there, but they failed to cross that narrow line needed for me to begin to believe it all thou. And yet I am convinced that nowhere else in Latvia’s theatres the idea expressed by this staging could be ‘brought through’ better.’

It had been difficult to identify with journalists presented in this staging:

„We don’t walk around in business suits, normally, and don’t pin our article cuts to the walls in the editing office. This caught my eye immediately. But there were also nuances captured precisely, things that I see in everyday, I mean such comments as made by the industrialist played by actor Ģirts Krūmiņš: ‘I didn’t like what you wrote about my factory. ”

‘The idea and story of performance are, of course, very intriguing. I could not get discern till very last moment – who, what and why? But, as a journalist, I doubted the honesty of the main character already from the start. You have to question everything, including the democratic model of society.’

I saw Alvis Hermanis who was present in the audience raise his hand [after Thomas Stockmann, played by Vilis Daudziņš, asked to vote those who consider democratic model of society worthless and majority – incapable of taking correct decisions – ed.]. I still think that the view of the majority is the most worthwhile.’

This performance is marked for a short life span, as, spatially, it has been adapted for a theatrically ‘uncharted’ territory. It is staged in former office of magazine ‘Rīgas Laiks’, found above the Small stage of the theatre, and will be moved, in the planned reconstruction, to another space and turn into a different performance. Ieva Alberte agrees that the space is important not only because of the office setting: ‘It is a close-up performance. The sense of presence is very important, which would definitely be lost if it played on a larger stage.’


Young director Jānis Znotiņš acknowledges that ‘something like this was quite necessary. There has not been political theatre in Latvia so far. So, it is good that performance finds its audience shortly before municipal elections.’

‘Democracy is a mathematical system, which is profitable for some. But it is clear that mathematics is no longer reliable. Is majority right? Of course, emotional reaction would be – it is not. This performance attests that we are in dead end. Entire society is in dead end in terms of thought,’ Znotiņš purports.

‘You cannot escape the fact that people come to see theatre and are not completely convinced, since ‘it is only theatre,’ which is why there is this public dialogue between viewer and actor. It can be different every time and it may not happen at all. And will say something about the public. It is already second staging of this play that I watch [version of Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ titled ‘Dr. Stockmann’ was premiered in Valmiera theatre in November 2010 – ed.] and the viewer is always ‘switched on’ at this move. He is more than just a viewer, who sees the performance and never thinks anything,’ Znotiņš is convinced.

He answers the question of whether good people are found in politics in categorical negative. ‘It is the greatest absurd that someone, even if he is good, automatically becomes bad once he involves himself with politics. Politics are never good. I am convinced of that.”

A system, which does not function, has been developed, in his view, and even if there is someone who is good and struggles and tries to do something, he has little hope to achieve much as part of this power structure, which is also confirmed by the result of the play.

The cast of ‘An Enemy of the People’ are NRT actors Vilis Daudziņš, Andris Keišs, Ģirts Krūmiņš, Ivars Krasts, Kristīne Krūze, Gatis Gāga and Varis Piņķis. Next, you can see it on May 15, 16, 17 and 18.


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