In a new version by Christopher Hampton, the story concerns Dr Thomas Stockmann (Sir Ian McKellen) who has discovered that the spa in his home town is poisoned. When he tries to inform the authorities, they go all out to cover it up, particularly as they and the tax payers are the ones who would have to pay for the clean up. However, Dr Stockmann still pursues the truth which leads to him being discredited by the officials which results in the local people turning against him.
I found the story a little slow in the first act as not much seemed to be happening plus it was all very predictable. However the second act is superb as Dr Stockman attempts to have is say to the village. To have his say though is difficult because no one will let him speak on their land. However one of his loyal friends allows him a public platform on his property. But again the officials are clever and outwit him which turns the crowd in to a mob, which threatens to cause harm to him and his family. It is all very gripping and at times disturbing.
Sir Ian McKellen is at his very best with some convincing acting. This is McKellen's first performance at the National since 1992 when he starred in 'Uncle Vanya'. Sir Ian McKellen will also be starring in "Peter Pan' at the National in December this year, playing both Captain Hook and Me Darling. There is also a fine performance from Stephen Moore who plays 'Peter Stockmann' the brother of Dr Stockmann and the Mayor of the town. Both actors compliment each other wonderfully as they argue on what is best for the town.
The set design is fantastic, but then it is designed by John Napier, who has designed the sets for Cats, Starlight Express, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Sunset Boulevard. So you will have an idea of what to expect! The revolving stage is used to move from one scene to another with great efficiency. The set is big and realistic.
Generally, the popular press were enthusiastic about the play. BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES describes it as "both a big, rich public play." JANE EDWARDES of TIME OUT on Trevor Nunn's first production , "A highly auspicious beginning." JOHN THAXTER of THE STAGE describes McKellen as playing his part "with frenzied intensity." NICHOLAS DE JONGH found the play enjoyable but was not pleased with Sir Ian McKellen's performance commenting that it was "perhaps the worst of his brilliant career." This I cannot agree with myself, as I found his performance superb and touching. JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES agrees saying McKellen's performance was "one of the greatest in his career" and BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS OF THE WORLD says he "contributes a masterly performance" and goes on to say "It's a play with razor-sharp teeth."
While it is not a great play, it is still worthwhile seeing for the great acting, superb scenery and strong story.