The Theatreguide.London Review
Olivier Theatre Summer 2019
David Hare has updated
Ibsen's sprawling poetic and philosophical drama Peer Gynt to the modern
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
Ibsen's 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 shipwreck.
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.
David Hare's 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 still
almost 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 the original.
What there is in Jonathan
Kent's production is a handful of scenes that stand by themselves as both
thought-provoking and emotion-inspiring.
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
And the 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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