Reviews Round-up: Matt Smith in An Enemy Of The People 3.3★

Duke Of York’s Theatre

Matt Smith in An Enemy Of The People. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Henrik Ibsen‘s play about a whistleblower has been reimagined for the modern world by German director Thomas Ostermeier. Former Doctor Who and The Crown star Matt Smith takes on the lead role in a production that places the story in the modern world and includes he and his friends singing Changes by David Bowie and a scene in the middle where the audience become the crowd. Some critics liked this attempt to modernise Ibsen’s classic, others found it didn’t work.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls, and therefore may not be accessible]

Clive Davis in The Times (2★) said ‘Thomas Ostermeier’s sophomoric attempt to drag the Norwegian playwright into the 21st century is so clumsy it might be part of some sinister conservative plot to kill of left-wing theatre once and for all.’  Sam Marlowe in The Stage (2★) was equally unimpressed: ‘the production’s innovations are essentially arid and effortful’ and concluded ‘The whole thing is executed with superficial flair. But it feels like an elaborate exercise in preaching to the converted.’ Alexander Cohen in Broadway World  (2★) was unmoved: ‘Explosive monologues saddled with politics are hurled at us without the humanity to anchor them…Interminable one-dimensionality plagues the performance as a result.’

Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph (3 ★) was lukewarm in his response: ‘A play for today, on paper, but the concept could use a digital-era upgrade, and a shot more vigour, to set the world on fire.’ Alice Saville’s review in The Independent (3★) thought the modernisation ‘makes its message still more biting’ but found it ‘a morally and.. messy political drama’ and said that it ‘periodically slips into smugness’. Nick Curtis in  the Evening Standard (3★) described ‘coarse political sloganeering and audience participation’ and said: ‘The casually charismatic Smith and a fine supporting cast can’t stop it falling apart in the second half.’

Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (4★) had an opposite view. For her, it was ‘strangely subdued and halting in the first, less compelling act’ but said the second act ‘brings intensity, showcases Ibsen’s timelessness and also adapts the play’s moral arguments excellently for our times’ and described ‘an ending which is more equivocal and unsettling than Ibsen’s’. Time Out‘s Andrzej Lukowski (4★) also praised this ‘extremely droll’ production. His comment ‘The director chucks a lot of stylistic stuff in with more concern for impact than consistency’ may seem to be damning with faint praise but he likes the involvement of the audience (‘enormously provocative’) and the ‘deliciously punchy final third’. Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (4★) said ‘the pacing feels a bit spongy at the outset and sometimes a lack of nuance grates’ but ‘the performances are great’. Sarah Crompton’s review at WhatsOnStage (4★) thought ‘The whole thing has a contemporaneity that makes it feel urgent, a tribute both to Ibsen’s prescience and to Ostermeier’s rigorous analysis of its relevance’ and loved the way ‘All of this is presented with the verve and energy of a rather wild sitcom, on a witty set by Jan Papplebaum’. Susannah Clapp in The Observer (4★) found it ‘a rousing evening’. Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (4★) thought it showed ‘a good sense of humour’.

Matt Smith’s performance was well received. The Evening Standard said: ‘Smith’s performance is a nuanced, complex portrayal of a flawed man.’ The FT called it a ‘superb performance’. Whats On Stage observed an ‘edgy intensity’.

Average rating 3.3★

Value Rating 35 (Value rating is the Average critic rating divided by the most common Stalls/Circle ticket price. In theory this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 40 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

An Enemy Of The People is at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until 6 April 2024. Buy tickets directly from the theatre.

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