German director eager to hear from the people

Enemy Of The People (above) is adapted from an 1882 Henrik Ibsen play about a persecuted whistle-blower.
Enemy Of The People (above) is adapted from an 1882 Henrik Ibsen play about a persecuted whistle-blower. PHOTOS: ARNO DECLAIR, BRIGITTE LACOMBE

Traditional theatre has actors speaking on stage. German director Thomas Ostermeier (inset), though, wants to hear from the audience during the staging of Enemy Of The People at the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2018.

His adaptation of the 1882 Henrik Ibsen play about a persecuted whistle-blower will run at the Esplanade Theatre on May 11 and 12.

Festival director Gaurav Kripalani says the Berlin-based director was the first person he thought of while programming this year's line-up, given Ostermeier's reputation as a game-changer.

The director's version for the Schaubuhne Berlin troupe breaks the fourth wall before the main character, Dr Stockmann, is judged and condemned by the rest of the cast for telling the truth about his town's contaminated water.

The audience gets to comment on his actions in a forum moderated by a cast member who speaks English. The play is performed in German with English surtitles.

Ostermeier says over the telephone from Germany: "I'm very interested in this immediate communication between the show and the audience." It was part of what reconciled him to a work that he considers among the weakest of Ibsen's output.

"The characters are not as developed as his other plays," he says, adding that the gun-toting female protagonist of Hedda Gabler makes that his favourite Ibsen work.

  • BOOK IT / ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: May 11 and 12, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $35 to $80 via Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: In German with English surtitles. Rating to be advised. Viewers in the first three rows may get splashed with water.

Ostermeier's Enemy Of The People amalgamates some characters and adds a new monologue. It debuted in Avignon, France, in 2012 and has been on tour every year since, including to Istanbul and Moscow in 2014; Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai in 2015 and Seoul in 2016.

In each country, the troupe has cameras trained on the audience's reactions to create what the director calls "a kind of mapping of political consciousness around the world".

In Turkey, the troupe was accused by the government of trying to promote political resistance.

In Moscow and Brazil, the director says, viewers climbed onto the stage to show their solidarity with Dr Stockmann. The character is pressured to hide the truth so as not to hurt tourism, the town's main source of revenue.

Ostermeier says: "Everywhere we go, people are critical of the political situation of the country, about the power of the economy on politics. They are pretty desperate for political change."

However, he found that it was in less developed countries such as India that people believed such change was possible. The so-called First World Western countries were more cynical.

He is planning an English version of Enemy Of The People for Broadway this year, as a reaction to the election and ongoing term of United States President Donald Trump. "My biggest interest in the play was to talk about the limits of democracy," he says.

Akshita Nanda

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2018, with the headline 'German director eager to hear from the people'. Print Edition | Subscribe