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Archive for October 14th, 2007

Peer Gynt

Armed with tickets for the very last performance of the pretty much universally acclaimed 5 star show Peer Gynt at Dundee Rep, we had high hopes for a really good evening.

It started really well, with the cast as a loud and drunk wedding party getting out of an open-top car which drew up outside the theatre.   The actors fought their way through the crowded bar upstairs and sang a few numbers with the house band before ushering us into our seats:   “The Buffet takes place in 3 minutes, so get those fucking mobiles turned off” kind of set the tone for what was to come.  

Peer Gynt is famously “unstageable”, but Colin Teevan’s translation and Domenic Hill’s direction gave this a really good shot.    In Naomi Wilkinson’s design, the stage was boldly stripped bare to the back walls, with a house band hiding in the shadows, and a huge long staircase going diagonally up the back wall.   Most of the cast sat visible in the wings when not part of the main action.    

Keith Fleming played the young Peer – wild and drifting, dreaming and storytelling – threw energy and wit into his performance.    The two scenes with his mother – the first, a wonderful reindeer tall tale, and the second, a journey with his mother to St Peter’s gates were special highlights.    The wedding party, and the Troll King scenes were manic and exciting, if a little long.     I was less convinced by his relationship with Solveig, played by Helen Mackay at this performance.

In the second half, Gerry Mulgrew took over as older Peer, with tales of arms dealing in Africa, becoming a Guru, surviving a plane crash – not to mention being cornered by 5 or 6 gorillas.   

I did have some reservations about this show:    firstly, the language was unnecessarily foul.    I don’t mind bad language in the theatre, but it has to be justified, and its relentless use certainly wasn’t here, where it actually became tiresome.     Secondly, there were too many moments where the action flagged.   Thirdly, I felt there were too many loose ends left untied, and I felt more could have been made of some aspects.   The second half was messy and for me missed a chance to pull things together coherently.   Perhaps that was the point of course, but it left me rather unsatisfied.   I did think the ending was especially well done though.

Having said all of this, I welcome a big show like this one which was highly imaginative and took substantial risks.    It did not all work, but taken as a whole, and with reservations as above, there was actually a lot to like.      Cliff Burnett, onstage the whole time as the Buttonman who sees everything Peer’s life brings,  also fronted the Buttonman Band – great to see him back at Dundee Rep again after all these years.      Domenic Hill has nurtured his team of actors at Dundee Rep, and it shows in the quality of performance he gets on stage.

I bought a script, like I usually do for new work, and I am looking forward to reading it to see if it sheds a bit more light on things.    And like Statler at View From the Stalls, I need to have a look at those 5 star reviews to see if I missed the point.

All in all, a fitting farewell to Domenic Hill before he takes up the reins at the Traverse.    At the final curtain call, Keith Fleming whipped on a T shirt saying “Cheers Dom” with ***** on the back.   A good way to leave Dundee, and I wish him well in Edinburgh.

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