28th February 2007
Peer Gynt is one of Henrik Ibsen’s early works and – unusually for him – written in verse. There is none of the closely observed social dissection of his later plays. Instead we get a broad arc of story telling as Peer Gynt’s life and actions are examined.
The play has a grand sweep that, among other things, takes in folk stories, village life and imperialism. However, despite this grandeur, it is essentially about a man who fails to live his life fully – to commit himself. Instead he ends up failing not only those around him but himself.
This version of Ibsen’s play, directed and adapted by Baltasar Kormakur and performed by the National Theatre of Iceland, is a robustly entertaining account of this difficult to stage work. They bring a sense of physicality teetering on the brink of catastrophe, broad comedy and pathos to the play.
The set is a mixture of white tiles, huge shower curtains and hospital beds. This invokes not only the snowy landscapes of Ibsen’s Norway and the company’s own Iceland, but also the sanatorium from which Peer attempts to review his life. The setting also suggests that the action takes place in Peer’s head as much as in the real world.
Additionally, the use of the shower curtains gives the Pit’s stage flexibility, while also carrying echoes of David Lynch’s epic and icy TV series Twin Peaks – an echo amplified by the use of some of Angelo Badalamenti’s music at one point. Indeed the use of music – ranging from kitsch pop to what sounds like aggressive Nordic metal – adds yet another dimension to the production.
Among a uniformly strong and fine ensemble performance, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson as Peer and Olafur Darri Olafsson as a particularly fearsome Troll King give especially notable performances.
There is constant motion in the action: things unfolding and being tidied away– like the story itself. At the conclusion there is a shroud covering Peer’s coffin, its blackness a stark contrast to the by now blood spattered white of the set.
The final image is a striking one: the button moulder letting the dust that Peer has now become fall from his hand, as the stage becomes dark.
The Pit Theatre, Barbican
Until 10th March