Spoiled for choice

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Ibsen's poetic masterpiece portrays Peer Gynt as a man unwilling to commit himself, says Timothy Ramsden

Peer Gynt By Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Terje Tveit Rosemary Branch Theatre 2 Shepperton Road, London N1 To October 30 Tel: 020 7704 6665 for tickets

With some highly regarded Ibsen productions under his belt, Terje Tveit turns his Dale Teater Kompani to this long poetic drama, designed by Ibsen as reading-matter. No scene is cut, though Peer's long contemplations in the later acts, setting out his - and Ibsen's - philosophy, are shortened.

Time is saved, too, by eliding scenes, with the 15 actors onstage throughout, forming scenic elements. So, the ensemble begin subdued as Peer and his mother talk, then introduce elements of the next scene's wedding as the opening conversation nears its end. For Tveit, the story of Peer's adventures, with its predecessor, the equally long and armchair-bound Brand, sets out Ibsen's fundamental concern. These plays "sum up Ibsen's whole career as a writer. Everything touches in essence on the same core: the eternal search for truth in ourselves, that core we all have to find in order to live a full, complete life.

"Peer has all the right assets to make it in life but evades things," says Tveit, who believes "the whole play is a journey of the mind." His production takes seriously the frequent religious and biblical imagery.

Though Ibsen had contempt for organised religion, Tveit sees the influence of Kierkegaard and the early stirrings of Existentialism.

The play's journey moves from reality into fantasy. By the end, Tveit conceives Peer may be near death, or dead, in the Cairo mental asylum, the last act showing him, in effect, circling around a mental landscape. This is why, in action that takes him from youth to old man, the actor playing Peer will not externally age.

In the later acts Peer is mostly at the mercy of the people he encounters (only in the question of making a decision over whether to save a ship's cook does he make a choice). He has failed to commit himself to anything, good or evil. Tveit does not see the Button Moulder who confronts Peer as representing any external force, but as the agent for finally making Peer reflect upon himself.

Ibsen treats Solveig, in whom Peer finally appears to find himself, realistically in the play's first half, where she makes the decision to leave her family and live with Peer in the mountains. However foolish this is, it shows a willingness to commit herself which contrasts with Peer.

When she reappears towards the end, Solveig has become more of a symbol. As Tveit puts it: "She is not very much part of Peer's conscience, but is a symbol of something he is not."

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