Saturday, 27 June 2009

Peer Gynt: National Theatre of Scotland

 A rare trip to the Theatre last night - the Royal no less to see the NTS' excellent adaptation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

This is quite a complex piece of work - Ibsen wrote it in verse as a saga and so didnt envisage how it would be staged.  In fact it was not put on in a theatre in Norway until 10 years after it was published.  It was then that the fellow Norwegian composer Grieg added his music - the  famous Hall of the Mountain King - well known to Manic miner Fans! or those Slater Hogg and Howison adverts in the 80s.

It's no surprise why some have said it is "unperformable". It involves  a long trippy journey about a outsider's life  - bit of a pisshead and womaniser  - via trolls,  a group of monkeys, bad wedding parties, the desert, an asylum and that just scrapes the surface.

It is also pretty long but you wouldnt notice it from this production which has an amazing energy.  This is personified by the two guys (Keith Fleming and Gerry Mulgrew) who play the young and old Peer who bounce around the full time dragging the whole thing with them.  Keith Fleming reminded me a bit of Rik Mayall in Bottom which I would say is a good thing! Helped by excellent music   - which eschews the classical  to something much more modern and folky - including a well placed cameo for the Pet Shop Boys "Go West".  The support is also uniformly excellent  they are more or less literally support as the play is pretty much focussed on Peer Gynt - the other characters are never fleshed out in the text.

The work also focuses on the nature of self - Who is Peer Gynt? what makes a man different from a troll(!) and  the divorcing of celebrity self from reality.  Also the nature of man - is he always dragged down by his baser side - shown here in two bacchanalian scenes at a small town wedding (reminded me of a few I had been at) and in the troll( King Bastard)'s  lair.  

One element which was very prevalent in the translation I read which is more or less taken out completely is regarding Norway which at the time of writing was part of a union with Sweden as the weaker partner.  One reading of Ibsen's work is that Peer keeps getting dragged down because of the folk tales he's obsessed with (the trolls in particular) and the small town mentality of his village - which could be seen as Norway as a whole.  So it was a critique of Norwegian society - Ibsen wrote it when abroad in Italy.  Greig and Ibsen were both involved in maintaining a separate Norwegian culture.  There's a pretty complicated scene where 4 people symbolise Sweden, Germany, France and the USA - that's gone replaced with a brilliant sort of    chat show format!

I  thought that there could have been interesting parallels with Scotland - part of union, sentimental aspects to  culture but there weren't  really any drawn.  It would have been difficult to integrate that in though as there was so much else going on. 

You can see there's reference to topical things for Ibsen at the time - Darwin's theories, slavery and obliquely the American Civil War. I guess the celebrity culture/mythologising aspect which actually is quite implicit in the piece written in the 1860s is a message for our times.

So really loved it - energetic, funny, loud, fast moving and a bit bonkers.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dr Nik

    Thanks for the great review. Glad you enjoyed the show, and delighted your rare trip to the theatre was such a success! Hope we can tempt you back soon.