Louis Frederic Austin

An Enemy of the People på Haymarket i London anmeldt av Louis Frederic Austin i The Illustrated London News 24. juni 1893.


It is said that Henrik Ibsen knows nothing of English ideas, and has no special curiosity about the fate of his works in this country. If this be so, an excellent jest is lost to him. He misses the humour of his constant burial and resurgence. How many gravediggers have put him under ground with commination by way of obsequies, and how often has he risen blandly and retaken possession of our stage! He has been «smashed up» nearly as much as the British Constitution. He has been caricatured and parodied to death, voted dull, coarse, and profoundly immoral, dismissed to the eternal «limbo» which is peopled chiefly by the pet aversions of critics. And now! Well, now he is promoted from the boards of the Independent Theatre to the boards of the Haymarket, and instead of being played by greatly daring amateurs, with a sprinkling of budding professionals, and of professionals who no longer bud, but sometimes «rest,» he is presented to us by Mr. Beerbohm Tree, an actor-manager, with all the skill and pains of that facile and versatile artist! Truly these are times in which the independence of the Independent Theatre begins to be sicklied oer with the pale cast of commonplace, now that one actor-manager blossoms into Ibsen, and another actually converts Mrs. Grundy to the moral of Mr. Aubrey Tanquerays second nuptials!

I have seen it imputed to Mr. Tree by some good Ibsenites, still suspicious of actor-managers, that he has treated «An Enemy of the People» in a spirit of unseemly levity, that he has made Dr. Stockmann farcical, that he has left himself an avenue of escape from the social problems of Ibsen to the burlesque of Mr. Anstey, and that he skips from Norway to Punch whenever he thinks the play is getting a little tedious. It is quite true that this Dr. Stockmann, who neglects his practice, flatters himself that he earns almost as much as he spends, imagines that municipal institutions can be worked by pure reason and that a scientific discovery which threatens to cost the town a great sum will be hailed with acclamation by the «compact majority,» is a somewhat fantastic personage. When Mr. Tree dons the cocked hat of his burgomaster brother and flourishes his staff of office, his extravagance is quite in the spirit of his author. I like this foe of shams and sordid cunning none the less because he has not a tittle of the prosaic tact which would enable him to outwit his adversaries. Mr. Tree has conceived this childlike enthusiast with an appreciation of all the humorous foibles of the character: he intermixes Stockmanns earnestness with a dash of the Shaksperian fool. There is a touch of low comedy in the deliberate contrast between the towering stature of the Doctor and the diminutive printer Aslaksen, who tells him he has the «compact majority» at his back. The good Ibsenite is disposed to resent this as a perversion of the master to the merely comic. But the whole situation is comic. Mr. E. M. Robsons small proportions in the part of Aslaksen give a turn of whimsical mockery to the negotiation between the erratic man of science and this representative of moderation and the middle-class intelligence. The scene of the public meeting in which Dr. Stockmann, prevented by his brother from dilating on his discovery that the public baths are full of poisonous water, launches into a diatribe against the «compact majority,» is one of the best pieces of unconventional comedy on the modern stage. A long speech which has nothing whatever to do with the ordinary topics of theatrical interest is made so interesting by its skilful relation to familiar human motives that you feel yourself in the heart of the meeting, and not a spectator at a play. Here at times Mr. Tree is a little too bizarre; but if the scene were not played with this mingling of the earnest and the grotesque, if you could not see that there is some plausible justification for the attitude of the crowd towards a man they consider an impracticable, absurd, and rather mischievous visionary, the edge of the satire would be blunted.

The effect of Mr. Trees experiment is as good a test as any of Ibsens vitality as a dramatist. Say what you will, these bourgeois people in a little Norwegian town have infinitely more reality than most of the types which strut and fret in the glare of the footlights. This is why the actors make so much out of Ibsen. There is not a negligable person in the Haymarket performance. Mr. James Welchs free and independent journalist is lifelike. I know him, with his cant phrases about the power of truth and the democracy, and his eagerness to pull down authority till authority makes it worth his but here is ticklish ground. I will only add that Dr. Stockmanns eagerness to see his worldshaking article in the Peoples Messenger, which, by-the-way, is on its last legs, is probably Ibsens slyest joke at the expense of his enthusiast and of the journalism which it is my duty to uphold, though the exposure of the Peoples Messenger is irresistible. I know that print. It has died more than once owing me money.

L. F. A.
Published Mar. 20, 2018 3:35 PM - Last modified May 3, 2018 11:29 AM