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Peer Gynt (London & tour)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This wild and wonderful Scottish Peer Gynt, adapted by Colin Teevan and directed by Dominic Hill, first seen two years ago, is a collaboration between Dundee Rep, the National Theatre of Scotland and bite at the Barbican, and further conformation that Ibsen’s wild poetic drama belongs most rightfully on the Celtic fringe.

Hill has since moved on to become artistic director of the Traverse in Edinburgh, but this tremendous production, full of energy and vivacity, is a great advert for both the Dundee Rep and the NTS, who enjoyed such success at the Barbican last year with Black Watch.

The wedding party where Peer, the peasant boy from the hills, seduces the bride begins in the foyer with the kind of cringe-inducing knees-up that usually signals desperation. But once inside the theatre, the melancholy of Peer’s mission for drunken fulfilment – his fantasy refrain is taken from the football terraces, complete with unprintable obscenity – is bound up in his crass claims of possessing the powers of flight and transformation.

Both the RSC and the Gate in Dublin have given us three Peers for the price of one. Here, the role is shared by Keith Fleming as a blazing bigmouth, trucking with the trolls and driving his devoted mother (Anne Louise Ross) to heaven’s gates; and Gerry Mulgrew, once a memorable Cyrano for his own Communicado company, as a bearded tycoon, recalling his great days in “Peeropolis” in a television interview, ending in a madhouse.

Ashley Smith is the loyal Solveig, Cliff Burnett the Button Man, stalking the action in a white suit with an accordion. The show, designed by Naomi Wilkinson and lit by Chris Davey, is deliberately grungy: the king of the trolls (Robert Paterson) - here called King Bastard – is a nightmare pub bully in a wheelchair, a satanic grotesque from Sauchiehall Street at the wrong end of a Saturday night.

Every other word is an expletive, but the idiom is shockingly true to real-life speech and does acquire its own poetic rhythm and potency, though both programme and printed text shamefully deny us any details on who exactly supplied the translation from which Teevan has made his “version”.

The stage is dominated by huge crane-like gantry and a relatively small cast work hard to fill the Barbican’s cavernous dimensions, but they succeed brilliantly, performing with considerable bravura over a long three-hour evening, and the musical direction of Paddy Cunneen is perfectly attuned to both the demotic of the actors and the scale of their epic journey.

- Michael Coveney


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