IN BRIEF Ibsen’s modernised classic feels overlong and insubstantial but is saved by three performances
Describing the episodic global “making your fortune” journeys of Peter Gynt, the “serial fantasist with ADD”, we follow him from Scotland to Florida to the African deserts to a sea journey, and more, as he makes money, loses it and eventually comes to the realisation that his track was the wrong one.
Peppered with Trumpian and other contemporary references which although having an impact felt to me a bit straightforward, however there are a number of details to enjoy along PETER GYNT’s running time. The interesting thing is that this long, big show is at its most effective when it is still, small and quiet.
Through all the costume changes, locations, big cast, effects (and to me, frankly unnecessary musical interludes (with apologies to MD supreme Kevin Amos whose band played so well)), this show shines with two simple scenes. First, when cradling his frail mother (Ann Louise Ross) in his arms on her deathbed, Gynt surprises with the loving warmth and comfort that his (previously worthless) storytelling could bring to her last minutes on earth. Beautifully still, the two actors create genuine compassion in a highly moving end to the first part of the show which held the Olivier’s audience in rapt attention. The other scene is towards the end of the show, as Gynt faces the Button Moulder (the recycler of souls), who tells him of the reckoning to come and holds up the mirror to his folly. Their quiet, static negotiation is truly compelling and blessed with skill of Oliver Ford Davies, a masterful piece of acting. Aside from the brilliance of Ford Davies, Ross as Gynt’s mother wins us early with her unrestrained railing against her son, a waster like his father, yet aching with regret when blaming herself for his feckless dreaming, cementing the audience’s compassion.
Central is Gynt himself, with a strong, detailed and accomplished performance by James McArdle. Rarely offstage for the whole three hours, from his opening monologue he creates a frustrating man with many human faults. His reckoning and eventual understanding is touching, slow and deliberate, and highly effective. A great performance which got me through this overlong show.