“Public Enemy”

Reviewer: Jemima Yong
Performance: 25 April 2015

I will declare this at the onset: I am a jaded viewer. What frustrates me most about productions like Public Enemy is weak acting. Frankly I didn’t believe many of the characters; I was not moved at all. I spend much of the performance trying to look past unedited fidgets, synthetic sentiment posing as realism, and lazy performances.

Public Enemy is a commentary on socio-political opposition in Singapore through David Harrower’s rewrite of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. The new narrative feels compressed, too quick to arrive at convenient truisms. Our protagonist here is named Dr. Thomas Chee, a not-so-subtle allusion to the leader of a local opposition party. W!ld Rice cannot have known but in view of recent public spats and trials, this is all so perfectly timed. But bar a couple of soft prods, the production does not go as far as it could to facilitate fruitful discussion. And it is this half full glass that makes Public Enemy commendable in ambition but mediocre in realization.

The most intriguing and disappointing part of Public Enemy is the point when the lights come up onto the audience. Dr. Chee stands in front of the microphone and addresses us, the public; the theatre is transformed into a conference auditorium. There are a lot of interesting questions espoused into the packed hall, about politicians, the model of practiced democracy and consensus, but before we have any time to take them in, the questions are swiftly hijacked by an ensemble of actors in the audience hall boo-ing or cheering. The actual audience is literally silenced. With questions like “Does anyone have anything good to say about politicians?”, I imagine, some people might have wanted to say “yes!”. But the signs are conflicting and we never really know if the questions are addressed to us. The audience ends up being talked to as we are uncertain if we have the right to respond.

Overall, it felt like a half extended handshake or a slouched call to arms; strangely timid or perhaps just not brave enough. I can only speculate as to what has happened in the making of this work, but either way the possibilities of theatre and arguably of the chosen text are grossly stunted in its presentation. And that unexplored potential leaves Public Enemy on the safe side of provocative, which may not be enough to change anything outside of the theatre.


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9- 25 April 2015,
Victoria Theatre


Jemima Yong has recently relocated from London. She is a performance maker and photographer, and is interested in criticism that balances being inward looking (for the artists) and outward looking (for the audience).