by Khairillah Irwan (16A01B) and Michelle Zhu (15A01B)
The night started simply enough – supporters, parents, theatre aficionados and casual friends gathered in the Performing Arts Centre to witness Raffles Players’ highly anticipated College Play, An Enemy of the People. Though this year’s turnout did not match the full house of last year, Raffles Players did not fail to impress.
An Enemy of the People brings to the forefront the conflict between the telling of the truth (and the naïve idealism that comes with it) and societal interests. Dr Thomas Stockmann (Naresh Manoj 15A01B), finds himself in conflict with Mayor Peter Stockmann (Rishi Vadrevu 16A01D) over his desire to expose the contamination in the town bath houses. The Doctor’s idealistic conviction to expose the truth and his confidence in the people is contrasted with the Mayor’s pragmatic concerns over how such an exposure would affect town revenue. As the play proceeds, Dr Stockmann finds himself increasingly estranged as the local news agency, the Mayor and the people turn against him despite his efforts to help the city. By the end, Dr Stockmann is lynched, exiled from his town and is left a jaded man, sombrely declaring: “The strongest man is he who stands alone.”
The play’s momentum was effectively sustained from start to finish. The Victorian decorations which adorned the PAC foyer along with a character web generated prior interest and surfaced the key motif of the individual’s relationship to society. The choir piece that was played to the anxious waiting crowd gained significance as it served as an unnerving foreshadowing for the loud and vitriolic scream of the crowd in the lynching they inflicted on Dr Stockmann later on in the play. Props goes to Players for their realistic and creative recreation of a lynching scene by positioning members of the cast in the audience. The shouting and murmuring which the audience heard from the ‘audience members’ around us enhanced the sense of realism, the impression given reminiscent of an election speech gone horribly wrong. If anything, this also aroused our sense of sympathy for the main character whose alienation becomes even more apparent as a further effect.
The lynching scene was a particularly memorable one, allowing us a deeper look into the character of Dr Stockmann. Naresh shone in presenting Stockmann’s desperation and conviction, in the face of an unforgiving and angry crowd. While one admires his zeal towards spreading the truth to the city, one may might also decry his unrealistic idealism and stubborn indecision. This man, presented as a composed man of science, unleashes bursts of raw emotion as he fights against a wall of public opinion in testament to his strong conviction. His consistent claims near the start that he has the ‘people behind him’ become more unconvincing and pitiful as the play progresses – one might even feel some sort of catharsis or grim satisfaction at seeing his illusions shattered and his views irrevocably changed by the end of the play.
The liberal press’ relationship with Dr Stockmann deserves special mention for showing the complex interests determining the actions of societal agents. The idealistic and naïve journalist vibe which Hovstad (Cheang Ko Lyn, 15A01B) the editor of the newspaper channelled showed in the somewhat comical scene where she and her fellow journalist Billing (Rebecca Goh, 15S06O) unveiled dramatically a world in which the ‘liberals would rule’. Yet this idealism is quickly trumped by societal interests and personal interests upon a visit by the Mayor.
Other characters related personally to Doctor Stockmann highlighted further the personal dimension to the conflict. Celine Ng (16A01A) put up a strong performance as the daughter of the protagonist. With her spirited voice and lively presence, her idealism fused with that of the protagonist played by Naresh made for an interesting stage dynamic Her comment about her role as a teacher- “At school we have to stand and tell lies to students!” elicited laughter out of the teachers in the audience. As Mrs Stockmann, Syafiqah Nabilah (15A01B) was versatile in how she oscillated between joyous hospitality and exasperation, resulting in a restrained spunk that reminded the audience of her unwavering, consuming concern for her family. We come to admire her unwavering dedication to her husband, even if it seems a little misplaced, thanks to the strong rendering of both characters.
Aslaksen (Rachel Koh, 15A01A) the moderator for Dr Stockmann’s public speech who piped up every five minutes by saying “Everything in moderation!” brought some much needed comic relief to the play. In the larger scheme of things, especially near the ending, these tendencies highlighted the ability of the artificial and seemingly polite to obscure the often loud and vitriolic Truth, which was a theme the play sought to share multiple times. Manifest in Thomas Stockmann’s interaction with the rest of the characters, the audience is left to reconcile Thomas’ unruly and unbecoming behaviour and the Truth he presents.
Players impressed with their set, which was both functional and, given its simplicity, did not distract from the characters. This is especially so because the CCA was hit rather harshly by budget cuts, having to cut down significantly on production costs. Nevertheless, this did not affect the quality of the play and one could make the case that the simplicity of the set focused the audience’s attention on the interaction between characters rather than detracting from it.
Of course, as with any production, the play faced its own set of challenges.
Physical and technical issues marred the play somewhat. Very notable were the long transitions between scenes. Their clumsiness had the audience fidgeting uncomfortably with the very visible silhouettes of the actors moving props backstage. The first half of the play felt rather rushed and stilted. From the perspective of some audience members, it felt as though the conflict was set up rather abruptly and without any precluding development. Though of course, this can be attributed to the formidable task Players had of setting the context for the very intricate web of issues that this play confronts.
The College Play elicited praise from audience members, with the HOD of Literature Mrs Nicola Perry remarking effusively that it was “a very strong performance all around.”
Unlike the version of An Enemy of the People recently staged by local theatre company WILD R!CE, the version performed by Raffles Players followed the original text by Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen more closely. An Enemy of the People dealt with political insubordination and one’s man quest to reveal the truth, and the Players did the play justice with their adroit performances. In the words of their director Mr Ian Tan: “No play is as powerful as An Enemy of the People in expressing how lonely the struggle for truth is, and the consequences of bearing [that truth].” It’s safe to say that Players did an excellent job in conveying that message.