Exploring the greatest new and classic plays


Matt Smith as Thomas Stockmann
Duke of York’s Theatre, London
February 2023
Photograph by Manuel Harlan

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

Mar 7, 2024 | Podcast Episodes | 0 comments

A small coastal town in Southern Norway is becoming famous for the recuperative waters of its newly founded spa. However, a local doctor who serves as the Spa’s medical officer has discovered that the waters that feed the spa are contaminated. He feels bound to bring his news to public attention, but such a revelation will threaten the very livelihood of the town. Those in authority are therefore determined to stop him from publicising his findings. The doctor is equally determined that the truth must be told, but his principled stand will make him “an enemy of the people”.

This is Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People, a fable of truth and lies, politics and power, and the challenge and costs of pursuing an unpopular crusade to speak truth to power. It’s a story of ‘fake news’, manipulation of the media, the dangers of populism, and the environmental cost of capitalism. No wonder it strikes a chord in our time, for as we record this episode there are two major new productions of An Enemy of the People on the world stage. Here in London, German director Thomas Ostermeier brings his striking contemporary adaptation to the West End, with Matt Smith starring as the crusading Doctor; and in New York, Jeremy Strong, famous as Kendall Roy in the TV series Succession, takes on the role in a version by American playwright Amy Herzog.

I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast, Ibsen expert, Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. I was privileged to talk with Kirsten in episode 74 when we discussed Ibsen’s wonderful play Ghosts. 

Plays by Henrik Ibsen covered on The Play Podcast:
001 – A Doll’s House 
074 – Ghosts

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr is Professor of English and Theatre Studies at St Catherine’s College, Oxford University. She received her B.A. in English from Yale University, after which she spent a year studying Nordic Literature and Languages at the University of Oslo before earning her D.Phil. from Oxford. She has held teaching posts at the Universities of Birmingham and North Carolina State before joining the English faculty at Oxford in 2007.

Kirsten’s research interests include the relationship between modernism and theatrical performance, and more specifically for our purposes, the writings of Henrik Ibsen. Her first published book wasIbsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900  published back in 1997, since when her other publications include The Cambridge Companion to Theatre and Science (2020), Modern Drama: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2016),  and Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (Columbia University Press, 2015), as well as numerous contributions to journals and critical collections.

Kirsten has been a guest on Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” on the episode devoted to Ibsen, and has acted as consultant on productions at the National Theatre, the Oxford Playhouse, the Old Vic, and at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.


Recommended Play

Kirsten recommended The Lady from the Sea by Henrik Ibsen.


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