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The Enemies: An Experimentorium Production | Review

The Enemies: An Experimentorium ProductionI’ve never seen (to the best of my knowledge) a production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, on which The Enemies has been adapted. But that didn’t seem to matter: I could follow what was going on quite sufficiently, and whatever references there may or may not have been in this production to the play from which it was derived didn’t seem out of place in the twenty-first century setting of the new play. Here, a plastic factory is about to unveil the latest “innovation in recycling”, except we never quite discover what that is, because the factory’s head of research, Laura (Laura Vivio) is, shortly before the unveiling, made aware of new information about plastics that throws her planned presentation into disarray. Her conscience tells her she cannot possibly go on stage and not tell the assembled members of a press conference (that is, the audience) about these new findings.

There’s the factory’s chief executive officer, El (Eleanor Neylon), and its press advisor Johnny (a sharp-suited Johnny Parr), and with the factory’s survival, at least in its current form, now at stake, there’s a need to think hard and fast. Laura’s findings, or rather those of a university with whom she has been collaborating her research with, make for harrowing reading, aligning itself with the war on plastics. Some evidence of this ‘war’ can be seen in daily life in Britain today – the obvious initiative that comes to mind is the charge on plastic bags by retail stores. Wrapping and packaging in supermarkets is being noticeably reduced. In some theatres (and other places) they have cups labelled ‘I am not a plastic cup’, as they are biodegradable.

Here, there are frantic crisis talks about how to proceed, and all the while, the audience waits for the presentation. In the end, with Laura and El, who happen to be siblings, are at cross-purposes, with El thinking of the livelihoods affected if Laura’s plan of action is adopted wholesale. The lid comes off the proverbial pressure cooker, and all sense of tact and diplomacy goes out the window: Laura denounces the management of the plastics factory, and even the general public, asserting that the idea that the majority is always right should not be universally applied. The analogies used don’t always logically follow, but there’s something authentic about the heat-of-the-moment part-rant, part-meltdown.

The production poses an interesting question about whether change from within is more effective than being an outside influence. Laura must, if she is to continue with the factory, reaffirm their values and approaches – that is, compromise, and then attempt to make changes within that framework. That may be better than not having any say in the running of the company at all. It is, at least for me, an unenviable position to be in.

The acting is faultless, with El’s corporate outlook as palpable as Johnny’s periodic discomfort at treading the line between two diametrically opposed viewpoints. There’s as much that is said without words as are spoken in the dialogue. It’s a play about power dynamics, but also has some serious points to make about the amount of plastic in the ocean, making it clear that current activities are insufficient solutions. It also manages to put the problem across without being preachy, but doesn’t, slightly disappointingly, suggest any concrete ideas either. Are there any? Perhaps that’s another play for another time.

One more thing: there’s an element of ‘audience participation’, which merely involves having some complimentary wine, served, the show being set in a plastics factory, in plastic cups. Why, oh why, don’t more productions offer this? The free wine, I mean, not necessarily the plastic cups. Overall, this is a thoughtful and deliberately chaotic show.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

This new production by Experimentorium seeks to pull apart Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ to further explore two of its core themes: environmentalism and socio-political relations. Basing their exploration on the rough structure of the play, the company will devise this new piece set in a world where truth is relative and the masses command
opinions.

Cast: Jonathan Parr, Laura Vivio and Eleanor Neylon
Running time: approx. 60 min
Suitable for ages: 16+

The show is be presented at the Bread & Roses Theatre as part of the Clapham
Fringe.
The Bread & Roses Theatre
68 Clapham Manor Street
Clapham, SW4 6DZ
London

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