Peer Gynt is Henrik Ibsen’s poetic classic: a tale that follows the eponymous Peer Gynt, who dreams of becoming emperor of the world. The story takes us deep into the mountains, from the frozen peaks of Norway to the dusty streets of Egypt. It is an intimate story of love, sin, and ambition. It is Gruffdog Theatre’s production of the show, which recently won Buxton Fringe’s Theatre Production award, that I got the chance to review.
The production is deserving of its success, with impeccable direction by Pete Sayer. There is an impressive combination of puppetry, live music, and physical theatre that are all encompassed by a cohesive ensemble. Sayer’s attention to detail is remarkable, with the puppetry being executed skilfully. An iconic moment in the show is the use of the troll mountain king puppet, which was not only beautifully designed but also used by the performers for a sinister and captivating effect.
The staging of the production is exceptional, with set and movement being used cleverly to splice scenes. As an example, ensemble movement is used during a mesmerising storm scene. Gaetano Iannetta’s musical direction is superb, using music by Edvard Grieg that is familiar, played by just a violin, guitar, and vocals. The use of this simple orchestra is consistent throughout the show, anchoring shifts in tone and setting a wonderfully dreamlike world. In addition, the lighting design by Edward Saunders perfectly encompasses the tone of each scene, with colours and sudden changes creating and shifting the mood.
the use of voice and movement was exceptional, enchanting even
Moving onto the performances themselves, it is important to explain that the part of Peer rotated: with four different actors playing Peer at different points in the play. The transitions between each “Peer” were executed fluidly, and the concept clearly conveyed the change in Peer as he ages and grows. Individual performances of Peer were all strong, one issue perhaps being that there could have been a greater unification of the characterisation of each Peer, to ensure the audience’s emotional connection to the character. It felt like each time Peer changed actor, you were given a new character to invest in.
As for the ensemble, the use of voice and movement was exceptional, enchanting even. The physical theatre and puppetry were outstanding. A minor criticism of the acting overall would be to work on voice, lines were occasionally inaudible due to lack of diction and volume, especially with music. Despite this minor issue, the acting was strong and consistent throughout, especially Madeleine Walker’s Solveig and Tom Curzon’s troll mountain king (in addition to playing Peer and the violin).
Overall, Peer Gynt is a captivating production. It is a must see for its phenomenal direction, as well as its mesmerising use of movement, voice, and design.
Peer Gynt is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for tickets click here.
Image: Leonie Rideout