Audience involvement and sharp directing underlines Thomas Ostermeier’s take on the Ibsen classic
Thomas Ostermeier may be bringing Henrik Ibsen’s play, Enemy of the People, to town, but he is clear about something. “I didn’t want to direct it. The original was very mediocre, with one-dimensional characters. However, the subject made me change my mind. It’s one of the most disturbing issues facing our society—the conflict between economy and ecology. So my challenge was to make a weak play into a good one,” begins the artistic director of the Berlin Schaubühne theatre.
The story remains unchanged: when Dr Stockmann discovers a health hazard in the waters of his spa town, he wants to blow the whistle. But with economic prosperity in the balance, he is threatened to keep silent. While Ostermeier’s version has kept the psychological drama intact, he has contemporised the story written in 1882.
“We completely re-wrote the speech Stockmann gives before the town hall—10 per cent is Ibsen’s and 90 per cent is inspired by the The Coming Insurrection, a political tract by The Invisible Committee (a group of French anarchists),” says Ostermeier, adding that his Stockmann wears hipster clothes, is in a band and his taste in music runs to contemporary electronic. Ostermeier has also played around with the characters. “Like, I combined the two female roles to strengthen it and not have a cliché of women stuck at home,” he admits. The sets are one of the highlights—blackboards with the furniture chalked on. “In such a politically explicit play, I did not want anything taking the attention away from the acting and the story,” he says. The other highlight is how the director has shattered the fourth wall and opens up a dialogue with the audience. “This follows the epic theatre tradition where the spectator is part of the action. I’ve taken the show to 25 cities worldwide and everywhere people really participated—discussing the state of politics, corruption in media, economy and politics,” he says.
In India for the first time, Ostermeier wants to make the most of it—meeting theatre artistes and “experiencing every little thing”. Currently working on a contemporary play, Bella Figura, by French playwright Yasmina Reza, he is also looking for new Indian talents to showcase at the Festival of International New Drama in Berlin, this April.
February 24, at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Hall, from 7 pm. Free passes on eventjini.com
Surya Praphulla Kumar