Whenever we go to the theatre, I try and remember a line in order to use it as the title of the corresponding blog post. Usually there’s one really good one that stands out and I tend to be able to remember it. Not so today, however. Today we saw David Hare’s loose adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt called Peter Gynt and it was littered liberally with wonderful quotes.
Unfortunately as I struggled to remember one, the next one was scrawled across it, obliterating it. Eventually the scrawl was just a blur of scratchings and scribble. For some reason, the title was one of the first ones I heard and managed to remember until the first interval so I could write it down.
In the original Ibsen 5 act verse drama Peer Gynt is about a downfallen man travelling through life searching for and finding redemption. In Hare’s version it’s about a man who makes his own exceptional story but winds up being average. “To thine own self be true,” is an irony often repeated throughout the play.
The play is about now, about our attitudes today. Things like Fake News whereby someone only has to say something has happened to make it true. Things like how power and money will make you a better person. Things like mis-remembering a time that never existed as being better than what is now.
The action follows Peter Gynt, returning from the war and inventing all the things he’s heroically achieved based on the plots of movies he’s seen (his mother sees through his description of The Guns of Navarone, for instance) and returning to his life of lies and exaggeration. Things have not changed in his absence.
Peter causes an uproar, trying to stir up the mundane and flees. Following a rather odd encounter with a bunch of trolls, he heads out to make his fortune in the world, leaving behind a woman who will wait for him forever.
He makes a lot of money, loses it, becomes a prophet, becomes penniless, is shipwrecked, almost drowns and, finally, winds up back at home in Scotland where he discovers that rather than escape his mediocrity, he has never lost it. There are three choices – Heaven, Hell or being melted down in a button ladle. He will be melted down.
We saw it at the National and it is easily the best thing I’ve seen for ages. Even though it lasted around three and a half hours, it was gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. It was thought provoking and powerful, satirical and ironic. As Mirinda said, it is what live theatre should be.
James McArdle was brilliant as Peter Gynt. Mesmerising and completely convincing, he owned the Olivier stage. Even at the character’s worst, you couldn’t help but love him.
The rest of the enormous cast was exceptional as they orbited Peter, moving in and out, leading him through the world towards his end. Mirinda counted 24 at the curtain call, so the cast was truly monumental.
One stand out for me was Anya Charlotra whose haunting voice was truly beautiful.
That’s not to say everyone wasn’t superb. The whole play, the whole cast, the set, the music, everything, even the audience. I am SO glad we saw this.