Review: Peer Gynt

After seeing last year’s Phaedra by Rough Magic in the Project Arts Centre, I was interested in seeing another production by the same company, especially when it promised a similar creative approach. In a new version by Hilary Fannin and Ellen Cranitch, Phaedra was brought from its mythical past into a modern context; the real icing on the theatrical cake however was the specially composed and performed live, music by a host of extremely talented Irish musicians.

Following on from this success, Peer Gynt, in a new version by Arthur Riordan, transports the Norweigan tale from the cold environs of late 1800’s Scandinavia to modern Ireland, and this is all done with a great set, and lively performances accompanied by really gorgeous live music by Tarab.

Lasting three hours, the first half of the play was fast paced, full of cheeky humour and lively performances, particularly from Karen Ardiff’s Aase. Closing the first half with a moving scene between mother and son, the relevance of Peer Gynt for an Irish audience became very clear – Irish mothers and their undying love for their sons!

The second half changed in tone, as Rory Nolan’s Peer travels abroad and encounters many strange characters, who ultimately lead him to tackle the question of when he has been himself. While I loved the first half, the second half lost my interest quite a bit – I understand that the plot of Peer Gynt is quite convoluted (in fact the play was originally written to be read and not staged), so it’s not the production’s fault, but the second half is really a let down when compared with the first.

However, the closing scenes were particularly stunning, and I left the theatre feeling like I had experienced something quite special. In my own opinion, the production is extremely creative, Arthur Riordan has done a great job of creating a text that is as relevant as it was to an audience in the late 1800’s, as it is to an audience in Ireland today; the music as I’ve already harped on about (pardon the pun) is absolutely fantastic, and the set design was brilliant.

I think that Rough Magic combining live music with theatre has yet again nailed it when it comes to great theatre. Unfortunately, an overly complicated plot let them down slightly, but the production is still something not to be missed.

Peer Gynt is on until October 16th and tickets can be bought on the Ulster Bank Theatre Festival’s box office.

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