THEATRE – Peter Gynt at Edinburgh International Festival


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IBSEN’s three-act verse- drama, Peer Gynt, was written in 1867 with the intention never to be performed and perhaps, it would have been better if it stayed that way.

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David Hare has taken on a mountain of a task, reimagining the source material for the 21stCentury because of the many allegories and playful characters in Ibsen’s original work.

But, he misses opportunities to explore the impact the internet has had on the human condition. Hare chose to favour forcing in a mention of Nando’s and Netflix to show it is current.

Hare’s Peter references famous movie plots as the basis of his tales instead of creating his own myth to satire the current state of affairs.

The play is about Peter – a daydreaming egotist, who travels the world in search of his true self.

Peter’s inability to distinguish fact from fiction with his desire to be exceptional has created an appealing character and, the play at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre features inventive and ambitious staging.

JAMES McARDLE leads the play with an incredible performance after making a Mary Poppinesque entrance.

Despite, all the ideals to make an incredible show it is not enough to save it.

The play begins in Dunoon, West Scotland with a soldier returning home from war, entertaining his mother with tales of his exploits.

Hare introduces us to Peter- dressed in desert fatigues – your standard Jack-the-lad that can be found in the pub exaggerating stories for dramatic effect. His mother played by ANN LOUISE ROSS sums up Peter perfectly calling him “a serial fantasist… with an attention deficit disorder.”

Hare plays with this idea throughout the whole play, but, it loses interest as he begins to travel from continent to continent as Peter tries to find his true self.

The first hour and a half lost control of the narrative once we enter the world of the trolls, which is introduced to the audience as a dream. However, it is somehow an actual event in Gynt’s life.

It is not until the second act the play begins to regain control of the narrative and draws us back in.

Richard Hudson’s psychedelic yet incredible set designs upstage the cast throughout the play with it repetitively circling around a set of philosophical ideas that are thrown at the audience.

And, with all the resources, Jonathan Kent’s three and a half hour show fails to keep the play from feeling aimless, jumping from Dunoon to a Trump- style golf course, West Africa, Riyadh hotel, Egypt, and a storm-lashed ship before returning home to his dull life.

Peter goes from solider to a media mogul, arms dealer, fake prophet, political fixer and more but, the playful musical numbers by Paul Englishby fails to add any redemption to his character or the play and are just cringe worthy.

James McArdle is on stage for most of the show, which captures his growth from youth to age but also his tragic realisation of his own emptiness. 

The show has a large ensemble many of who are thin and under developed. Gynt’s heartless treatment of woman side-lines the female characters, which are shallow and used as a mere plot device.

Peter’s mother adds weight to the play allowing the audience see a different side of Gynt until her death. While GUY HENRY’s turn as the mysterious passenger adds some intrigue to the play.

It is not until the final scenes of the play when Peter finally meets his match with ruthless Button Moulder played by OLIVER FORD DAVIES.

It is here where he finally understands the brevity of life and its futility, and also where he realises that quite like the play itself, he wasted a lot by aiming high and only achieving mediocrity.