Peer Gynt, Barbican Theatre, London
Hail the king of the rogues
Thursday 07 May 2009
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
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old boy shoots pregnant mother and father in New Mexico
- 2 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 3 Jewish community urged to boycott Cornwall village after residents vote for 'Hitlers Walk' sign to be reinstated
- 4 Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
- 5 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia