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Feeble, sophomoric and paper-thin: Matt Smith is nothing if not exciting, but he’s wasted on this one-star adaptation of An Enemy Of The People, writes PATRICK MARMION


An Enemy Of The People (Duke of York’s Theatre, London)

Verdict: More likely to make us demand our money back than it is to send us rushing to the barricades.

Rating:

The last time I saw Matt Smith live on stage, he chased down a super-sized moth that had dared to invade his space mid performance at the Royal Court Theatre in Chelsea.

The former Doctor Who, who also played Prince Philip in the Crown, is therefore nothing if not an exciting and unpredictable showman.

I’m sorry to report, however, that this does not so much apply to his eagerly anticipated return to live theatre. He is wasted on a piece of sophomoric, paper-thin agit-prop that’s more likely to make us demand our money back than it is to send us rushing to the barricades.

The actor with the famously vulpine features is taking the lead role of Doctor Stockmann in a feeble modern day updating of Henrik Ibsen’s great 19th-century indictment of institutional corruption in a Norwegian spa town where the water has been polluted.

Matt Smith is wasted on a piece of sophomoric, paper-thin agit-prop that’s more likely to make us demand our money back than it is to send us rushing to the barricades.

Matt Smith is wasted on a piece of sophomoric, paper-thin agit-prop that’s more likely to make us demand our money back than it is to send us rushing to the barricades.

The actor is taking the lead role of Doctor Stockmann in a feeble modern day updating of Henrik Ibsen’s great 19th-century indictment of institutional corruption

The actor is taking the lead role of Doctor Stockmann in a feeble modern day updating of Henrik Ibsen’s great 19th-century indictment of institutional corruption

Directed by German avant-gardist Thomas Ostermeier, it is set among a group of the town’s middle class, ‘wokey cokey liberals’ who have identified civilisation as ‘clinically dead’.

Such snarling propaganda is better suited to a student union than the West End, and with most remaining tickets priced at £100-£200, the real swindle is on Smith’s legions of faithful young fans.

The first thing that greets them in the theatre is a bar selling Veuve Clicquot champagne. Yet that hasn’t stopped the fragile pretence that the show is a fist shaken at fat cats and vested interests.

After the interval – when the blackboard set, painted with cartoon hieroglyphics, has been spattered in white paint during an ersatz display of defiance – the production turns into a political protest meeting. Smith steps up with a class-war diatribe, in which he proclaims ‘society deserves its extinction’.

As becomes apparent from the Question Time style involvement of the audience (yes, there is voluntary audience participation), feelings of powerlessness and despair at the future are real concerns for many young people.

But all they get here is flimsy moral dilemmas, as Smith’s doctor comes into conflict with his brother the Mayor (Paul Hilton), defender of the fictional town’s economic interests.

Said town is, moreover, in the grip of a serious epidemic of nepotism. Not only has the brother secured Doctor Stockmann’s job, Smith’s wife (Jessica Brown Findlay) is the daughter of a gruff Yorkshire industrialist (Nigel Lindsay) who makes a handful of appearances with an inexplicable Alsatian dog.

And no less cliquishly, Smith and his Mrs are part of a David Bowie and Oasis cover-band who rehearse in his home with the editor and leading writer of the local paper.

He is wasted on a piece of sophomoric, paper-thin agit-prop that’s more likely to make us demand our money back than it is to send us rushing to the barricades

He is wasted on a piece of sophomoric, paper-thin agit-prop that’s more likely to make us demand our money back than it is to send us rushing to the barricades

(L to R) cast members Zachary Hart, Paul Hilton, Matt Smith, Jessica Brown Findlay, Nigel Lindsay, Priyanga Burford and Shubham Saraf

(L to R) cast members Zachary Hart, Paul Hilton, Matt Smith, Jessica Brown Findlay, Nigel Lindsay, Priyanga Burford and Shubham Saraf

Directed by German avant-gardist Thomas Ostermeier, it is set among a group of the town’s middle class, ‘wokey cokey liberals’ who have identified civilisation as ‘clinically dead’

Directed by German avant-gardist Thomas Ostermeier, it is set among a group of the town’s middle class, ‘wokey cokey liberals’ who have identified civilisation as ‘clinically dead’

Nor is there any test of Smith’s acting. Placidly sitting through a public character assassination by his brother when things go bad, he loafs about the stage in designer jeans and sweat shirt, muttering about his unimpeachable integrity and getting spattered with paint balls when the town turns against him.

Personally, I didn’t turn against him, because I couldn’t get behind him in the first place.

There are audible sniggers from Whovians when one character tells him he’s a brilliant doctor, and although that may have been true when he was up against the Daleks, here he’s just roadkill for the play’s evil capitalist cronies.

Smith’s Doctor Thomas Stockmann comes into conflict with his brother the Mayor (Paul Hilton), defender of the fictional town’s economic interests

Smith’s Doctor Thomas Stockmann comes into conflict with his brother the Mayor (Paul Hilton), defender of the fictional town’s economic interests



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