PEER GYNT

Henrik Ibsen

Translated, Designed and Directed by Terje Tveit
Lighting Design by Finnuala McNulty
Dance Choreography by Federica Zurleni

Rosemary Branch Theatre, London

29 September - 30 October 2005

Cast

Shane Armstrong
Simon Balcon
James Bentley
Gerard Canning
Libby Curly
Stephen Doran
Paul Engers
Kristofer Gummerus
Katie Hayes
Adrienne Kress
Lucy Lill
Maddy Myles
Viola Newbury
Simone Saunders

Reviews

“Superb ensemble theatre hitting its dramatic mark. Terje Tveit’s Dale Teater Kompani (Britain’s Ibsen equivalent of the RSC) shows a confident, perceptive and radical way with this written-to-be-read epic, following the life of a country lad, and liar, turned millionaire magnate. Ensemble spirit is the production’s strength, suiting the script’s rapid evolutions and a central character’s slipperiness personified. Like the onions appearing at one point, Peer has no centre. It’s only the love he somehow inspires in Solvejg, which anchors him at his life’s end. Adrienne Kress’s Solvejg is an initially awkward-mannered, quietly assertive young woman, whose moral upbringing somehow latches onto Peer. Amid the whirl of is ever-changing existence, in an Arabian market or wherever, she’s a vision of patience and limpid stillness, fittingly appearing at the play’s end from the only significant set-piece on the Rosemary Branch’s otherwise bare stage. This is a wardrobe, dominating the space, allowing shock discoveries, or a sense of characters chasing through a world environment. It’s a fitting metaphor too for the flow of memories and guilt in Peer’s life. Never more then when it’s laid flat for as death-bed for Peer’s mother Åse (a scene skirting kitsch with its candles and softly metallic vibration). Similarly, a length of green muslin becomes the recurring reminder of Peer’s time with the troll women - a splendidly messy 5-way sex scene. This, and the full-cast Bøyg swaying throughout the entire stage, insisting Peer makes his way round, an image central to his evasiveness, are vivid physicalisations, often productively countering the action’s agitation and speed with slowness of movement and music, in a production which works best in the play’s outer stretches. The middle section would benefit from more concrete representation of the international affluence surrounding Peer (generally, the production works best given pre-knowledge of Ibsen’s story). James Bentley (alternating with Kristofer Gummerus) moves convincingly between energised confidence and desperation. And the final phantasmagoria of Peer’s search, in madness or death, for identity in a swirling, elusive ensemble is a spellbindingly theatrical summation of the play’s thematic core.”

ReviewsGate

“A symbolic play in rhymed verse, Peer Gynt is long and notoriously difficult to perform, with locations including Norway, Morocco, an exploding yacht, Egypt, the Troll kingdom, a ship which sinks at sea leaving only a dinghy for one person and a moor. In addition to the general difficulties facing a production team in staging this play, those of us not able to hear Ibsen in Norwegian have to put up with translations on top of everything else, and some of these have not made things easier. In light of this, Terje Tveit’s production at the Rosemary Branch is absolutely fantastic. He has translated, adapted and directed and does not shirk any of the difficulties. His translation is clear, humorous, poetic, moving and very believable coming from the mouths of the characters. ... With fourteen actors the ensemble playing is superb. ... Maddy Myles as Peer’s mother gives an immensely exciting and moving performance, particularly at her reunion with Peer before her death. ... A tiny theatre space with only a backless wardrobe and some beautifully handled props, makes the small space seem like an advantage, adding to the thrill and immediacy of Peer’s adventures. ... Once again the Rosemary Branch flies the flag for top class small scale theatre.”

Rogues & Vagabonds

“Norway’s odyssey. Now we know what spooked Munch’s screamer. Ibsen’s play is a haunting tale, but his sprawling exploration of individualism, originally conceived in dramatic verse, does not easily translate as a three-hour plus stage extravaganze. Reading the work, Munch felt compelled to draw illustartions, with himself cast as Peer. Whether his trademark painting was screaming for it to stop, we can only guess. Ibsen wrote his epic poem in 1867 after fleeing Norway for Italy to find freedom of the mind, and it was so well received that he adpted it for the stage. The trouble is he didn’t bother editing much for the sake of dramatic pace. The eponymous hero is the author’s doppelganger – a young, impoverished peasant, who pursues his very whim and exploits everyone, including his long-suffering mother and every nubile female. Searching for fame and fortune, he leaves home and seizes every major chance, including slave trading. But the traveller’s progress is constantly haunted by the eternal question: how can one be true to oneself? And, at last, it’s pay-back time. The metaphorical devil is threatening to cut him down to size of a button. Inspired by Norwegian folklore, Ibsen’s morality tale is a fantastic melange of comedy, tragedy and lyrical meditation, complete with trolls, shipwreck and adventures in the African desert. This potent mix is imaginatively captured in Dale Teater Kompani’s production directed by Terje Tveit. Despite the minimalist set, he carries off the jump-cuts of bleakness and boisterousness to great effect. Spirited dances of the six veils are counter-pointed with eerie lighting effects to underline the mystical element of Ibsen’s concoction. This premiere of a new translation by Tveit also boasts a strong cast and James Bentley, as Peer, who repeatedly flashes his six-pack and buttocks to great effect. The three-hour production goes nowhere. The poetic narrative supposedly ends with redemption in the arms of the woman he abandoned for decades. But somehow Solvejg gets lost in the denouement. If you prefer it concise and romantic, you’ll have to go for Grieg’s suite.”

Camden New Journal

“Peer Gynt is a bizarre fantasy with scenes shifting seamlessly between quite disparate locations without explanation. ... The Dale Teater Kompani, working on a shoestring budget, has had to be incredibly inventive to bring this text to life. A modern reading of the text would suggest that the natural treatment would be to film it, but here we are, above a pub in Islington looking at a stark, white set with only a wardrobe and some chairs waiting to see this most image-reliant play. ... Here is presented a new translation of the Norwegian original that retains the feel of Ibsen’s verse and rhyme - certainly no mean feat and in fact not fully retained in many of the standard published translations of the play. ... The production is an absolute riot, veering between a drunken, bawdy party to a sinister hush and back without any immediate stops. ... The multi-tasking actors, who any moment may have to switch between lead character, crowd member or even scenery, perform with great verve and obvious love of the work. They metamorphose from terrible drunkards to disgusting trolls with an impressive ability for abject behaviour that is both ugly and great fun to watch.”

Islington Gazette

“Peer Gynt is a full-blooded energetic hero in a new production at the Rosemary Branch. The story has been successfully adapted and directed by Terje Tveit of Dale Teater Kompani. ... A talented cast conjures up fantastic figures ... in the final scenes the Strange Passenger played by Stephen Doran and the Vicar / Button-Moulder played by Shane Armstrong are haunting. ... Peer Gynt is a mammoth work, but remains a promising and highly atmospheric production, with distinctive lighting by Finnuala McNulty.”

East London Advertiser

“Cramming a cast of 14 on to the Rosemary Branch stage is an achievement in itself and it proves well worth the effort, in this accomplished ensemble piece. An equally arduous task is squeezing Ibsen’s celebrated poetical fantasy into a manageable time frame without losing the breadth required to tell the tale of Peer’s lifelong adventures. Terje Tveit’s new translation has a fresh, lively feel to it, with much of the original rhyming text effectively recreated in English. With the tempo of the piece swinging wildly between raucous knees-ups and darker, solitary moments, on the whole the adaptation captivates. ... As Peer, James Bentley captures the maverick’s unquenchable thirst for life and for getting into trouble, evoking both his endearing and invidious facets to good effect. Peer’s exchanges with his long-suffering mother (Maddy Myles) are excellently performed, with pace and humour. The rest of the company combine well – Gerard Canning, Katie Hayes and Paul Engers standing out. ... Perhaps the play’s greatest strength is Finnuala McNulty’s lighting. Given the limited and crowded stage area, her design is imaginative and brilliantly establishes both mood and space. Federica Zurleni’s choreography in the Arabian dance scene is also a highlight.”

The Stage

“You couldn’t accuse either director Terje Tveit of Dale Teater Kompani of this tiny pub venue of lacking ambition. Peer Gynt is a sprawling early Ibsen, intended to be read rather than staged, exploring the need to discover and be true to oneself. It includes folk tale, fantasy and exotic locations from the Norwegian fjords to Cairo. The acting space, scarcely bigger than a suburban living room, has only one exit – through the audience, so all fifteen actors remain in view throughout – for well over three hours. They must engage the audience’s imagination instantly and take them willingly along on Peer’s journeys – existential and geographical. In this they are partially successful. Ibsen veteran Tveit’s own version of the play, trimmed but in straightforward language (although the insistent rhymes can become irritating), piles incident on incident. With the help of choreographer Federica Zurleni, Tveit marshals his players brilliantly, as they move in and out of scenes, doubling where necessary. The actors show unwavering commitment to their roles and to the ensemble, James Bentley being outstanding as Peer. Recent productions have used different actors to show Peer ageing as he experiences the world’s temptations; Tveit has chosen to make this a philosophical journey in which physical change is beside the point. The actors’ dressed in simply suggested period costume, have no more than a backless wardrobe (it’s doors providing an exit), a few hampers, some candles, masks and atmospheric lighting (by Finnuala McNulty) to tell the tale. It’s a valiant effort, but ultimately feels like a long haul.”

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