An Enemy of the People, Crucible, Sheffield

Lynne Walker
Monday 22 February 2010 01:00

Theatregoers and snooker fans will applaud the reopening of the Crucible, following a £15m refurbishment and a two-year closure.

There is a different gaudily patterned carpet in the foyer and in the theatre, where the twinkly-light ceiling has been retained, a new thrust stage seems to reach even further into the audience.

In Christopher Hampton's accessible version of An Enemy of the People, Antony Sher inhabits the space and the role of Dr Stockmann with a frenzied enthusiasm that tips into madness. His portrait of the medical officer whose investigations bring him into conflict with his brother – the town's authoritarian mayor – and the townsfolk verges on the mad professor.

Buoyed by his discovery that the spa town's baths are contaminated, Stockmann's benevolent high spirits turn to frustrated anger when his evidence is rejected and covered up, to preserve the seaside town's tourist trade. His benign expectation that he will be honoured for his work turns first, in Sher's compelling characterisation, to childlike bewilderment and then to an uncontrolled savagery as his hopes of establishing himself as a prized member of the community are dashed.

He tears into society and those who disagree with him and locks horns with his brother. John Shrapnel brings a waspishness and a cunning to the older man, wearied by the threat his indulged and pyschologically unpredictable younger brother represents.

As Stockmann's staunch wife, Lucy Cohu fields the best of the variable Yorkshire accents. Susannah Fielding makes a vivacious daughter. Trystan Gravelle is a mouthy editor and Phillip Joseph's Geordie printer conveys the worst traits of an obsequious, small-town tradesman.

Stockmann's household seems such a convivial place in the first act that his mental unhinging in the fourth act, and in the enigmatic ending – in which he appears to contemplate the greatest fall of all as he stares at an open trapdoor – is all the sadder. In Daniel Evans's otherwise thoughtful production the reduction of Stockmann to possible suicide is curiously at odds with Ibsen's intentions. But in front of Ben Stones' ingenious sea-washed flats, Evans succeeds in bringing out a surprising amount of humour while balancing the public and the private aspects of a play that puzzles and perplexes.

To 20 March (0114 249 6000)

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