Theatre: Don't go into the water

Question: What's the difference between Jaws and An Enemy of the People?

Answer: They didn't make a sequel to Ibsen's classic in 3-D. OK, so John Williams wasn't around in 1882 to compose a thumping, threatening theme tune and Steve Spielberg appears to have been in project development at the time but the similarities between the two are remarkable. Small-town figure takes on local establishment as vested interests try to hush up both a health hazard and our hero as events hurtle out of hand.

At the time of its release, certain wags opined that Jaws was a remake of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, but don't you believe it. Its real progenitor was Henrik Ibsen. "Don't go into the water!" yelled Roy Scheider, the small-town police chief in Jaws who knew a shark when he saw one. Ibsen's local sharks are of the human variety. They come under attack from local physician Dr Stockmann who is similarly unhappy about taking the waters, having discovered a pollution scandal in the local baths.

An Enemy of the People could well be the subtitle for Richard III, Ian McKellen's most recent role at the National Theatre, or indeed anywhere else. For the last three years, this theatrical knight has been at a cinema near you rather than appearing nightly on stage. At the beginning of this year, he was back in London musing on possible future roles. Thanks to Trevor Nunn, who takes up at the National on 1 October, he's now back on stage as Dr. Stockmann, to be followed by Captain Hook in Peter Pan at Christmas.

Anyone who saw McKellen's electrifying performances in Trevor Nunn's gripping, claustrophobic productions of Macbeth or Othello (both of which, happily, were filmed for TV in exemplary fashion) won't be surprised to see the pair of them working together again. Their partnership dates back to 1959, when, as Cambridge students, Nunn played the acolyte to McKellen's Pope in Dr Faustus. John Woodvine, another Nunn/ McKellen co-conspirator, rejoins them, plus the disgracefully underrated Penny Downie, last seen in An Ideal Husband.

Surprisingly, in a career spanning over 100 roles, McKellen has only appeared in one Ibsen play, as Bernick in Pillars of the Community, for which he was named Best Actor at the 1977 Olivier awards. This year's Olivier committee would be well advised to hotfoot it down the National.

`An Enemy of the People' is currently in rep at the National Theatre SE1 (0171-928 2252)

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