Peer Gynt, Barbican Theatre, London

4.00

Hail the king of the rogues

Deep in his cups, young Peer Gynt sees himself as a mercurial mountaineer, a scavenger of dreams and a consort of mythical creatures. Later in life, he recalls a career as a mogul of gigantic wealth who became an internationally renowned guru and finally a recluse in a madhouse; poet, prophet and celebrity, but finally a fraud, and a nobody.

Ibsen's poetic drama wields the perennial fascination of other "unperformable" great classics like Goethe's Faust or Shelley's The Cenci, but this tremendous revival from the Dundee Rep in collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland finds a human, comprehensible way through the thickets and manages to make something genuinely local (and Celtic) of Peer's story while preserving the epic outlines.

It's a story of our time, as it seems to embrace the whole comedy and rumpus of human aspiration and achievement, and then blows it all to smithereens in the imagery of the Button Man who comes to melt Peer down in his ladle, and the layers of the onion peeled away to reveal nothing at the centre.

Dominic Hill's production acts in a poignant pincer movement, using a new version by Colin Teevan, to show the young Peer hunting reindeer and disrupting wedding feasts, in the vibrant, chaotic figure of Keith Fleming, and his older counterpart, played by a bearded, portly, Gerry Mulgrew recalling his days of empire and decline in a television interview.

The actors bear an uncanny resemblance to each other, and the important women in Peer's life are given a constant embodiment of both timelessness and reality by Ann Louise Ross as his mother in cropped hair and farm clothes, and Ashley Smith as the ideal (and idealised) partner, Solveig. Another stanchion in the framework is a mysterious musician in a white suit, whose role you can probably guess at before it's fully revealed.

Not often does Peer succeed on these two levels of poetry and theatricality, but this vigorously scatological version certainly does the trick. Willy Russell's heroine in Educating Rita, answering an exam question on how one might best produce Peer Gynt, writes simply, "Put it on the radio." Hill and his company, however, manage a series of vivid theatrical sequences that gel into an unforgettable physical rendition of the banality of human endeavour.

The actors do well to fill the large Barbican stage, and it's a tribute to their fire and passion that this great dramatic parable works its intriguing magic so insidiously.

The old Peer doesn't return to the Ibsenite fjords on a ship, but to the auld country on a package flight where everything goes wrong. Back in the forest, the King of the Trolls is a smelly vagrant, Solveig a blind comforter and Peer himself a destitute combination of Timon of Athens and King Lear.

To 16 May (020-7638 8891; www. barbican.org.uk); then touring Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot