Peer Gynt, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

A fine example of Peer group pleasure
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Bad boy though he is, notorious bride-robber, lying scoundrel of a son, cheating lover and ruthless opportunist, the anti-hero of Ibsen's drama Peer Gynt has abundant charm. At least he does when his character is coloured with such cheerful optimism and his manipulative ways played with the energetic congeniality that Uwe Bohm brings to this weighty role in the Berliner Ensemble's penetrating production.

Bad boy though he is, notorious bride-robber, lying scoundrel of a son, cheating lover and ruthless opportunist, the anti-hero of Ibsen's drama Peer Gynt has abundant charm. At least he does when his character is coloured with such cheerful optimism and his manipulative ways played with the energetic congeniality that Uwe Bohm brings to this weighty role in the Berliner Ensemble's penetrating production.

The "Morning" music from Grieg's familiar incidental music to Ibsen's play sets the scene for this pared-down staging, given in German and directed by Peter Zadek. Peer's true love, Solveig, in a beautifully restrained performance by Annett Renneberg, sings the haunting Norwegian melody Grieg borrowed for his theatre score.

Tradition is not entirely dispensed with, and though many scenes have a deliberately makeshift look, the paucity of set and props adds to the impact of the production while Hardanger fiddle music and a cacophonous Hägstad Troll Band add splashes of local colour.

The action begins in the early 19th century and ends in vaguely modern times suggested by a beer-and-burger stall and a small but undimmed light from the busy lift in a block of high-rise flats. Up there, the loyal Solveig waits for the wandering Peer whose salvation she proves to be with her unconditional "faith, hope, and love".

Norway's rural Gudbrandsdalen is a mere grassy mound, and a stack of wooden chairs represents Peer's house on the mountain. A pale blue backcloth with bobbing ship transports us to the coast of Morocco, a few barebottomed monkeys inhabit the Sahara, and ill-assorted characters people the asylum at Cairo.

The trolls, typifying the rude, base side of human nature, are a weird bunch, all masks and tails, and the cemetery is scattered with humans, sitting motionless with gravestone-straight backs, flowers on their laps. The Berliners each assume a variety of roles. Outstanding among these is Angela Winkler (the cross-dressing Hamleton on a previous visit to Edinburgh by the company) conveying the frustration and pain of Aase, Peer's helplessly and hopelessly devoted mother. The Button Moulder is presented as a sinisterly smooth Gerd David, preparing to melt Peer down for "recycling" (a nice touch) with the same remorselessness Peer showed in his business adventures.

Zadek brings Ibsen's satirical and often uncomfortable view of the human condition right up to date. And, in leaving up the house lights, as is his custom, he is perhaps reflecting not just the good and the bad of the self-seeking Peer but mirroring something we recognise all too clearly in ourselves, and our peers.

Comments