The Pit, London EC2
Opened 28 February, 2007
On one level, it is easy to see that Baltasar Kormákur's
National Theatre of Iceland production is principally a devised work. A
mental-hospital scene, a cabal of blood-smeared plutocrats throwing
handfuls of money into the air, a bunch of sunglassed thugs in black...
these are ploys redolent of all too many productions that have no firm
idea what they want to say but are determined to say it graphically.
The first main difference is that in this case the company do have something to say: in fact,
they have Ibsen's fantastical, notoriously unstageable five-hour verse
play, in which protagonist Peer is at every moment torn between trying
to be an individual and trying to be a human being. The second
difference is that it works.
Gretar Reynisson's all-purpose white tiled set serves at various points
as a sauna in which prosperous Peer and various captains of
international finance conspire, a fish-gutting factory in which his
mother works, the old people's home in which she dies and the morgue in
which Peer finds himself at the beginning of the evening. Yes, the
beginning: Kormákur and company astutely use the final phase of
Ibsen's play, in which Peer at the end of his life meets a supernatural
Button-Moulder who wants to melt down and recycle his soul, as a
framing device to enable him to look back on his life. This provides a
helpful context for what is otherwise a cosmically bizarre picaresque.
Only around one-third of Ibsen's text is used, yet all the major
elements and much of the detail survive, albeit in an English
adaptation which veers far too often towards doggerel.
It is also quite strange for a London viewer to be able to speak with
familiarity about so many Icelandic actors. Four of the cast of eight,
including Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Peer, Ingvar E.
Sigurðsson as the Button Moulder and Ólafur Darri
Ólafsson as the mafioso-like Troll King, are recognisable from
the Vesturport company's recent visits and/or the co-production of Metamorphosis last year at
Hammersmith. Of the remainder, Brynhildur
Guðjónsdóttir as Peer's loving wife Solveig is both
luminous in her performance and eerily similar in looks to the rather
more earthy British comedienne Lucy Porter. The production really
shouldn't succeed, but somehow it all goes horribly right.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights
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