Melissa Reeves has re-written Henrik Ibsen’s play, updating it for modern times and swapping out the male protagonist for a female. The result proves that very little ever changes where politics and human nature are involved.
The plot remains more or less the same: a small, insignificant town finds prosperity and renown when its natural spring is touted as a health spa and it becomes a popular resort. But wealth and fame are threatened when the the town medic, Dr Stockman (Kate Mulvany), discovers the waters have been contaminated via a flood carrying waste from a local sawmill. While she is eager to announce her findings and immediately close the spa, her fellow town officials are less keen. Dr Stockman’s brother, Peter (Leon Ford) is the mayor – tall, thin, moustached and uncomfortably contemptuous of his sister. Their battles have a meanness only quarrelling siblings can achieve. Owner of the local newspaper, Hovstad (Steve Le Marquand) and his rookie journalist, Billing (Charles Wu), at first sympathisers with Dr Stockman, are pathetically easily persuaded to switch sides and join the ranks of town officials who decry her. The escalating level of antipathy towards the doctor reaches peak during a town meeting, called by the doctor herself but effectively hijacked by the mayor and his cohorts. Dr Stockman stands alone at centre stage, while the other actors stand high in the aisles around the theatre. As the audience, we feel involved in the meeting but can also feel Dr Stockman’s isolation as she is bullied and hit with a barrage of accusation and abuse. Though the references to current social climate are obvious it is still a powerfully disturbing scene.
There is some light humour, much of it supplied by Dr Stockman’s cleaner, Randine (Catherine Davies), but it is overwhelmingly gripping. Kate Mulvany’s performance is a tour de force and worth the price of the ticket alone.
Until Nov 4. Upstairs Theatre, 18 & 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills. $37-$77+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.belvoir.com.au
Reviewed by Rita Bratovich