The Theatreguide.London Review
Olivier Theatre Summer 2019
David Hare has updated
Ibsen's sprawling poetic and philosophical drama Peer Gynt to the
It is not a task that
was crying out to be done, and
despite some effective scenes and a marathon performance by the
hardly-ever-offstage James McArdle, it is pretty heavy going.
play, to oversimplify, begins when young fantasist Peer Gynt is told
to be himself. He sets off on a quest to find himself, which in his
terms involves a lot of indulging himself.
He seduces and abandons
women, has encounters with supernatural beings, makes and loses a
fortune, is hailed and then rejected as a prophet, and survives a
In the end he has to
face the realisation that he never
really had a self to find and isn't even enough of a sinner to be
damned, and must take what comfort is available in the love and
forgiveness of the woman he abandoned back in Act One.
updating consists largely of peppering the script with joking modern
references and sight gags like turning some cowmaids from the
original into line-dancing cowgirls and Ibsen's subhuman trolls into
a boorish millionaires' club.
The play's structure is
randomly episodic, so that except for Peter himself very few
characters last more than one scene.
Meanwhile the central
philosophical questions of Ibsen's play – just what the self is,
how one finds it and what to do with it once it is found – are not
presented any more clearly or brought more dramatically alive than in
What there is in
Jonathan Kent's production is a
handful of scenes that stand by themselves as both thought-provoking
The first of the three
acts of this version
ends with Peter having a momentary lapse in his self-absorption and
movingly guiding his dying mother through her final moments.
entire last half-hour of the play, when Peter is brought face-to-face
with his own emptiness and irrelevance, will grip you in a way little
that came before was able to.
Apart from the marathon
nature of his
performance, James McArdle deserves credit for maintaining a sense of
a core character in Peter even as the man's external situations
change from scene to scene.
Ann Louise Ross is
strong as Peter's
scolding mother and touching as the dying woman, and in spite of
being offstage through most of the night Anya Chalotra creates and
sustains a sense of the girl he left behind.
Oliver Ford Davis sits
in his dressing room for almost three hours before effortlessly
creating a strong effect as the button moulder who forces Peter to
see his own emptiness.
The nearly three and a half hours do not fly by, and the few strong scenes are not quite enough.
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