Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a sprawling,episodic play, written in verse in 1867. It has its defenders, but it is not aneasy play to produce. Now David Hare has updated the play and he has called hisPeter Gynt simply marked as “after Henrik Ibsen.”
It is still a big play withdozens of characters and numerous scenes that requires well over three hours toperform. Much of it is riveting theatre but the arc of Gynt’s life eventuallybegins to sag.
Hare moves the play from Norwayto Scotland and Gynt’s adventures take us to Florida, North Africa, the sea andmeetings with an array of people, cowgirls, hyenas, mythical characters andothers.
The play opens in Scotland whereGynt (James McArdle) is returning from the war. He is greeted by his motherAgatha (Ann Louise Ross) and we quickly get a taste of his character. He tellshis mother that he was on a great mission and begins describing the plot of TheGuns of Navarone as if it is what he did. Peter is afantasist, a liar, a dreamer, a braggart and a narcissist. But he is quitelovable because he is also useless, and we admire his ambitions and grandioseview of himself. Hare provides Gynt with a quarry of zingers that evoke considerablelaughter.
Peter kidnaps Ingrid (CarolineDeyga), his former girlfriend on her wedding day and has sex with her. She askshim to marry her and he refuses. When she asks him why he went with her, hereplies that the question requires a level of self-knowledge that he simplydoes not possess.
Peter is his mother’s son. Agathais as much a fantasist as her son and she blames herself for her son’scharacter.
Peter does become a millionaire,the owner of a golf resort in Florida, a newspaper mogul and an obnoxiousperson but with a sense of humour. He pities anyone who does not have anadjective that describes him.
Peter’s travels and adventurescontinue through dreams, sea storms, travels, bankruptcy and encounters withthe supernatural. Unfortunately, by the time all five acts come to an end withthe numerous scene changes I found my attention flagging. I felt I had seenenough of the satire on individualism, uncontrolled capitalism and recentcurrent events.
Hare cannot resist taking swipesat current politicians and you may well guess that a gold resort in Florida isnot a coincidence.
James McArdle is on stage almostcontinuously and he deserves a standing ovation for his superb acting. Gyntgoes from brash youth to old age where he is facing death. We see him innumerous guises and McArdle’s acting and stamina are admirable.
Ann Louise Ross is outstanding asAgatha, a tough, wiry woman who has a keen eye and an acerbic tongue. AnyaChalotra plays Sabine, the woman Peter falls in love with and she does a finejob in the role. The veteran Oliver Ford Davies is a mellow and convincingButton Moulder.
Peter Gynt containsseveral songs by Paul Englishby which I found insipid and unnecessary.
Richard Hudson’s sets and DickStraker’s video projections were truly impressive and Chris Fisher’s illusions simplystunning.
Jonathan Kent’s directing isimpressive with the number of cast members and scenes involved but there was notmuch he could do about the length of the play. He had to deal with theOlivier’s massive stage which is never easy to maneuver in.
Peter Gynt is thetype of play that only an organization like the National Theatre can tackle interms of financial and talent requirements. The production has many virtues butin the end the play lacks the strength to carry us through more than threehours of theatre.
Peter Gynt by David Hare after Henrik Ibsen continues in repertory until October8, 2019 at the Olivier Stage, National Theatre, South Bank, London, England. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.