by Henrik Ibsen
Translated and adapted by Errol Durbach
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
604-280-3311 or www.ticketmaster.ca
Blackbird’s production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, adapted by my UBC Theatre Department colleague Errol Durbach and directed by John Wright, is a thought-provoking and entertaining take on this transitional play of Ibsen’s from the 1860s that anticipates his great works of realism like Ghosts and Hedda Gabler—plays that helped invent the modern stage.
reviews and re-stages scenes from his life to determine whether or not he lived it authentically, he’s effectively played as a young man by Craig Erickson and as his older self by Donald Adams, with excellent support from a large ensemble cast, including Simon Webb as the St. Peterish Button Moulder, sweet-voiced Nicole Braber as saintly Solveig, the love of Peer’s life, and Lenard Stanga as the wonderfully swinish Troll King. Heidi Specht, as the piggy Troll bride, and Adam Henderson create some nice character work, too. And I can’t ignore the student trio of Maura Halloran, Kimberly Harvey and Spencer Atkinson, who comprise a delightful comic chorus.
Marti Wright’s set provides a variety of interesting playing spaces, and Wendy Bross Stuart’s live music and multi-dimensional sound score kept reminding me how ambitious this production is. Blackbird certainly fulfils its mandate to produce classical work that we wouldn’t ordinarily get to see with highly professional casts and production values.
Durbach’s intelligent and often witty adaptation/translation helps makes the play accessible, with a certain colloquial swing to the rhymed verse (“As a sinner you’re a joker/All your sins are mediocre”) and enough anachronistic contemporary references—to Canadian politics among other things—to make us realize that this is more than just a dusty period piece.
Still, at almost three hours the play feels long, mostly because there is so much repetition. Each scene plays a variation on the same questions: did Peer betray his true self? Was there ever a real self there? And those questions are asked aloud many times by the end. Also, as lovely as Braber’s voice is, the long, slow musical interludes in Norwegian dragged things out for me.
Though so much smarter than the average play, some of what is meant to be its grotesque comedy comes off as just silly. And the abundance of philosophical and academic references, often in German, raise the question of whether, ultimately, this play and production would sit more comfortably in a university theatre environment than at the Cultch.