Peer Gynt, Barbican. Review by Julia Pascal.


Directed and adapted by Irina Brook with poems by Sam Shepard.

Ibsen’s original text, which he never imagined being staged, is a wild poetic fantasy far removed from his naturalistic works.  Irina Brook’s version is inspired by her days in New York during the  1980s  when she was in love with the rock scene and Iggy Pop. It is a brave production which tries to take this impossible text on a new journey.

Ibsen’s poem  is about dreams and responsibility. His Peer Gynt is a dreamer who is appealing and amoral. He steals a bride for a good time on her wedding day and, once he has had her, he abandons her.  He leaves  his one true love, Solveig, to be a rock star.  Brook takes the text into the world of the 1980s and her Peer, in this adaptation  a bulging- bellied ageing rock star, becomes a sad figure searching for redemption.

Brook’s  production has some wonderful moments.  I loved her clown and circus elements in the second act.  Here the theatrical zaniness of her vision really uses the theatre.  However the pop scenes left me cold and Peer’s endless narcissistic rantings were boring.  Icelandic actor Ingvar Sigurdsson as Peer, apparently cast for his ageing rock star energy, has little range in his spoken English so he seems to be endlessly shouting on the same note.  There is a magnetic performance  from dancer  Shantala Shivalingappa who doubles as the vampish Troll princess and the virginal, saintly Solveig and I particularly enjoyed Mireille Maalouf as Peer’s mother.  Although her first language is French, Maalouf’s  English has musicality and range.  Sadly this was missing in the  actor playing her son.

Julia Pascal © 2014.