The Pillars of Society
In his play ‘The Pillars of Society’, which is the first of three plays in The Actors Company repertoire season at the small intimate Jermyn Street Theatre in Piccadilly, Ibsen has captured the corruption that too often seems to go hand in hand with capitalist ventures. Avarice, lies, cutting safety costs, and insider dealing, all gilded with the excuse that it is necessary for the greater good. The play reads like an indictment of the present government; of the Enron board of directors; or of any of the scandals one reads about in the morning papers. Though written in 1877, it seems more relevant and exact as a denunciation of the suppose ‘pillars of society’, then do many modern works.
The story tells of Karsten Bernick who is perceived as a moral guardian defending his small town from the ravages of immorality. However his morality is a sham! 15 years earlier he was involved in a sexual and financial outrage that caused a terrible scandal in his small provincial town. Karsten was saved from ruin when his friend Johan, who fled to America, agreed to take the rap for Karsten’s misdemeanours. Karsten has since married Johan’s sister Betty whom he dominates like a cruel tyrant, reminding her of her brother’s ‘offences’. However, Johan’s sudden return from America, along with his half-sister Lona, sets up a chain of events that threatens to destroy Karsten's standing.
The play shows how corporate and personal sin become entwined and feed upon each other, and the hypocrisy of those who care more about the rules of behaviour then they do for the people those rules are meant to govern.
The acting varies from adequate to excellent. The women easily outperform the men, and Nicola Neale is superb as Lona, she enters the stage like a breath of fresh air, sweeping away the musty cobwebs that lie like a shroud around the respectable townspeople.
It is a solid production and despite the difficulties a small performance space presents for the cast of 21, The Actors Company captures the essence of Ibsen's play that contrasts freedom and oppression, retribution and redemption.