24 February 2010

Folkfiende

Lucy Cohu and Antony Sher in "An Enemy of the People"
Sheffield has two great theatres. There's the Victorian splendour of The Lyceum with its traditional proscenium arch and balconies and there's the concrete nineteen sixties' Crucible with its big thrust stage. That building also accommodates a more intimate studio theatre. The Crucible, famous for the World Snooker Finals which are held there every spring, has been closed in recent months for refurbishment. The first major production after the makeover has been Henrik Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People", reworded by Christopher Hampton.

I took a semester long course on Ibsen at university and when I visited Norway six years ago, I made sure that I included his hometown of Skien in my itinerary. The country house he bought during a time of bankruptcy is situated a couple of miles north of the town. It overlooks a shallow green and peaceful valley with apple trees in its garden. The citizens of Skien thought enough of their most famous son to erect a statue in his memory and the house is now a seasonal museum.
Skien in Norway with Ibsen's statue in the centre.
Written in 1882, "An Enemy of The People" focuses upon Dr Tomas Stockmann. In The Crucible production his part was played quite brilliantly by Sir Antony Sher. Stockmann is a man against the world but motivated by selfless intentions. He has discovered that the town's water supplies have been polluted by local industries and is especially concerned about the new spa baths that are expected to bring in hundreds of tourists and boost the town's ailing economy. But because of greedy self-interests, nobody in authority will listen and he is ostracised by his community. At the very end of the play, in painful isolation he says "...the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone."

It's not only the environmental reference that gives this play its modern relevance. There's also the issue of how thinking individuals operate within established social structures. Rocking the boat, even for eminently justifiable reasons, is frequently viewed with outright hostility. Stockmann speaks out against the "majority" and claims that fools are perpetually in control. These fools break his windows with small stones which he gathers in a heap.

I hadn't been to see any live theatre in quite a while and I must say that I did enjoy this production. With Antony Sher at the helm, it was as if the rest of the cast upped their game. However, I thought Lucy Cohu as Mrs Stockmann was too young for the role - she looked little older than her daughter Pietra and should have been a more careworn, matriarchal presence upon the stage.

Regarding the theatre's makeover, it seemed essentially the same as before - just spruced up. I was puzzled as to why it has been pretty much closed for a year and how even after that year and an expenditure of £15m the finishing touches "to do" list still has a way to go.

6 comments:

  1. Looks good though, along with many other new Sheffield things.- It's all about the window dressing these days.

    The magic of looking around The Crucible as possibly the north's top theatre on a school trip in the '80s will always stay with me.

    The excitement post-Thatcherism when the Lyceum stopped being a delapidated building and erstwhile rock concert venue and was again used for more traditional plays.

    The pride when Michael Grandage did so much for The Crucible in the noughties with Joseph Fiennes and Kenneth Branagh taking the stage.

    Sheffield is a great dramatical city, going right back to the Sheffield Playhouse days.

    Who can forget Pudding's Bottom?...

    Ps- Agree about Ibsen (although I never saw his plays as melodrama)- a proper dramatist along with John Osborne and the bloke that is currently writing for Corrie- forget that Willy Wobbledagger and all that exaggeration...

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  2. I fervently hope your friend in Thailand is referring to A Midsummer Night's Dream...

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  3. SIR BOOTH If you ever come back to The Steel City, The Crucible will surely be eager to offer you a job in promotions. With regard to my Bottom, I am humbled that you remember it as I know that you have seen many Bottoms in your theatregoing life.
    RHYMES WITH BOTTOM Of course he was referring to the Shakespeare play! There is absolutely no truth in the rumour that Sir Booth had to flee to Thailand because of his Bottomphilia.

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  4. Elizabeth.6:41 am

    'You should never wear your best trousers when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.' Is that the one?
    I hear its had some good reviews.I
    must try and catch up with it, though 'Hedda Gabler' is still my favourite Ibsen choice.
    Never visited either of the Sheffield theatres - maybe I need to put that right. x

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  5. I remember seeing, and greatly enjoying "The Stirrings in Sheffield on Saturday Night" at the Crucible as a teenager. I'm glad the Crucible is back. I remember Antony Sher as a superb Richard III and later as an excellent Malvolio - - though the rest of the cast in that RSC production weren't as good as he was so "Twelfth Night" became "The Tragedy of Malvolio" - - though I always think it is, a bit.

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  6. The Crucible doesn't look dramatically different to me either. One eye-watering carpet exchanged for another, a spectacularly ugly extension on stilts at the front. Hmm. Still, the service at the bar has improved rather spectacularly, so not all bad.

    However, the play's the thing (sorry, couldn't resist) and I'm delighted that the Crucible has finally re-opened. There are rather too many musicals at the Lyceum to suit my personal tastes.

    I really enjoyed An Enemy of the People; first time I've seen anything by Ibsen, hopefully not the last.

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