With only a few days left to see Arthur Miller’s An Enemy Of The People at the Union Theatre in Southwark, actor Mark Grindrod discusses his role as Captain Horster and his love for classical theatre.
Mark, you are currently appearing in Arthur Miller’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Union Theatre in Southwark. What’s it about?
Set in Kirsten Springs, an American backwater, the heart of the story is the conflict between Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the town’s doctor, and his sister, the Mayor. The doctor finds evidence that the water supply, on which the planned regeneration of the town as a spa resort depends, is poisonous. Dr. Stockmann is clear that the health risk must be made public and the building work stopped. The Mayor, who has invested huge political and financial capital in the spa, makes it equally clear that the Doctor’s report must be supressed. Hovering and bouncing between the opposing sides of “truth” and “economic realism” is a hypocritical press. The journalists do not come out of the story covered in glory!
The play is about a host of eerily current themes – truth, whistleblowing, populist demagoguery, fake news, political manipulation, the role of the press, economic forces versus moralistic principles, the dictatorship of the majority; as you watch the story unfold, you hear echoes of Trump, the water scandal in Flint, Michigan, Brexit, populism, Edward Snowden, media bias, global warming, democracy in crisis and the over-riding question, “is the majority always right?”. It’s incredibly current!
There seems to be a 70-year cycle from the original Ibsen play of 1882, to Miller’s McCarthy era version of 1950 and then to our current interpretation.
You play the role of Captain Horster. Who is he and how does he fit into the story?
Horster is a faithful and solid old seafarer, the voice of reason in the maelstrom. He’s a good friend to the Doctor and provides a steady moral compass. Or maybe ballast!!! He isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, but he has travelled the world and brings a measure of perspective to the struggle between the Mayor’s obsession with short-term economic advantage and the doctor’s deeper moral concerns. He stands by Dr. Stockmann and he pays a price for it.
Are you anything like your character in real life?
I would like to think that I would be as robust as the Captain in defending “right” over “wrong”, but who knows … I hope that I have a similar sense of critical analysis and am not seduced by populist rhetoric.
It’s rare for Off-West End theatres to stage an entire season of classic theatre. Phil Willmott’s Essential Classics Season at the Union Theatre seems to be attracting diverse audiences. What do you think the appeal is?
Because the theme of the classics are for all eras, and Phil has an uncommon knack of twisting the prism just enough to shine an appealing freshness and modernity on the texts.
Since training at the Poor School and Bridge, you’ve enjoyed a varied stage career, what appeals to you most about performing in classic theatre roles?
It is the challenge of doing justice to these marvellous texts and enjoying inhabiting these magnificent, monstrous and complex characters. There is an element of “not looking down” and being overwhelmed by such challenging roles and all that has gone before whilst, hopefully, bringing just a hint of novelty to the part.
What’s been your favourite role so far?
Oberon, I would say, in terms of the classics, but also one that isn’t mentioned above, that of Doctor Maudsley in Bluestockings by Jessica Swale. He is a real-life character who was at the forefront of British Psychology in the late 19th century and a man who held extremely backward views on the subject of women’s intellectual abilities and education. It was great fun to play such a villain, in the eyes of a 21st century public, and to know that I had done a good job by the number of death stares I generated from the audience!
Who would you most like to play?
I’d love to play Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. I do love Miller. Lear would be the ultimate role … well why not?
What will audiences remember most about An Enemy of the People?
Aside from having their heads filled with the many prescient themes that Ibsen and Miller have crammed into 2 hours and maybe the attendant anger and debates that they have generated? I hope they will remember the stellar performances of the warring siblings at the heart of our play because Mary Stewart (Mayor Stockmann) and David Mildon (Dr. Thomas Stockmann) are terrific!
Why should they see it?
To have fun! To draw on the lessons of the past to better understand the current madness of the world, but most importantly to pass an intense, dramatic and lively couple of hours lost in great writing and a terrific story.
Mark Grindrod appears in Arthur Miller’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ at the Union Theatre in Southwark until 2nd February.