THEATRE REVIEW: Peter Gynt starring James McCardle at the National Theatre


WHERE? National Theatre  RUNTIME: 215 minutes (including 2 intervals)

WHEN? 3/7, opens 9/7 and runs to 8/10/19

Peter Gynt is David Hare’s Scottish update of Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play Peer Gynt which draws on a Norwegian fairy tale to examine the value of his hero’s life as we join him on his journey through it.

  • Read on for reasons including why this marathon musical version of Peer Gynt fails to grip

‘Do it on the radio,’ was the answer of Willy Russell’s titular heroine in Educating Rita when asked how to resolve the difficulties of staging this play.

It remains a good question because Gynt’s journey is not only 1 of self-discovery but also includes here trolls in a mountaintop, a Trump-like figure on his Florida golf course, a plane crash amongst hyaenas in Africa and an adventure amidst Egypt’s pyramids.

Director Jonathan Kent has been behind some fine recent work, including Gypsy at the Savoy and the Young Chekhov trilogy at this venue, and it is his vision that we most admire here.

The addition of songs to the story enhances the fun of the early Scottish wedding and the booty-shaking of the cowgirls adds a frisson of sex to what could be seen as a rather sober and humourless tale.

Kent’s vision includes a boisterous reception on a trailer without wedding, a heightened troll table and ship’s bow but, while it is a feast for the eyes, the adaptation by David Hare falls short of being a banquet for the brain.

But the fault is far from just Hare’s. A run time of 215 minutes including 2 intervals means the audience needs to be engrossed and, while this is not short on ideas which include a suicidal David Cameron-like figure and a Brexiteer living in the past, it seems to be trying to do too much.

Gynt’s tragedy is his lack of empathy and, for all the destinations on his journey, where the audience really needs to land is with the idea that self-realisation is actually far less important than how others think of you through your deeds.

McCardle (pictured right far above) was award-winning in Angels In America and gives it his all here but we think Ibsen’s vision is just better realised in revivals like Rosmersholm on at the Duke Of York’s until 20/7/19.

Peter Gynt, then, is wildly ambitious, boldly realised but with a script that strives for brilliance but, like Ibsen’s original, misses the heights and is instead destined for the button moulder’s ladle of respectable middle-ground.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy National Theatre. Tickets
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