(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/25.)
I’ve rarely seen a more exciting use of audience participation than in Thomas Ostermeier’s Berlin Schaubühne production of Ibsen’s play. When Dr Stockmann, persecuted for telling the truth about a spa’s contaminated baths, launches his jeremiad against modern society, he ends by saying “truth’s worst enemy is the bloody liberal majority”. At this point his opponents step forward to take a show-of-hands vote among the audience and invite us to join the debate.
The result is a bit like an unusually rowdy version of the BBC’s Question Time.
Even if a Barbican audience is hardly a typical cross-section of the public, the tactic releases a genuine anger against consensual politics, with various people shouting “stop bonuses” and “pay more taxes”. But what is stimulating is that it brings Ibsen’s play into our world in a way that not even Richard Jones’s recent Young Vic update, Public Enemy, succeeded in doing.