Ibsen’s Peer Gynt on stage

On Wednesday 6 February, the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen was on stage. This video is the Dutch language trailer of Peer Gynt, as played by Het Zuidelijk Toneel.

Dutch composers Strijbos & Van Rijswijk have written new music for this performance, inspired by Grieg’s music for the nineteenth century original.

This music video is called Edvard Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite No.1.

This is another video about Peer Gynt, by Het Zuidelijk Toneel.

And this video is a trailer of Peer Gynt, as played by another Dutch theatre organisation.

According to Wikipedia, Ibsen

is the most frequently performed dramatist in the world after Shakespeare, and indeed, A Doll’s House is the world’s most performed play.

Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in 1868. It marks a transition in his writing. It is Ibsen’s last play in verse. Before that, all his plays were poetry. They were inspired by Shakespeare; mainly about ancient Norwegian history. Peer Gynt marks a transition to Ibsen’s later work, mainly about contemporary Norwegian social issues. In the play, there are many allusions to Norwegian and world issues; easy to understand for Ibsen’s contemporaries; more difficult for twenty-first century audiences,

Though Ibsen is called “the father of realism”, especially in Peer Gynt there is a mixture of reality and fantasy.

Also, because the title character, the Norwegian farmer’s son Peer Gynt, has trouble distinguishing between truth and fantasy.

Peer Gynt riding a reindeer, Norwegian stamp

The play begins in the Lake Gendin region in Norway. Peer Gynt tells a tall tale about riding on the back of a reindeer after a hunt gone wrong; which his mother calls lies.

In this, Peer Gynt reminds one a bit of Dutch’s children’s book hero Dik Trom, often depicted riding a donkey in an unorthodox way.

Dik Trom on donkey statue

When I was in Norway, along the touristic trail, the Peer Gynt Vegen, there were everywhere signs of Peer Gynt on the reindeer’s back.

Also everywhere, there were wooden trolls sold as souvenirs. Ibsen’s Peer Gynt helped to make trolls world-famous: from Tolkien‘s novels to Internet trolls (not welcome on this blog).

In Ibsen’s play, also as performed by Het Zuidelijk Toneel, Peer not only rides (or: claims to ride) on a reindeer; but also on a pig, together with a troll king’s daughter.

Peer Gynt has some characteristics in common with Askeladden. Askeladden is a character in Norwegian fairy tales: typically a farmer’s youngest son, at first sight a never do well, getting into many adventures.

Peer Gynt in Ibsen’s play is not just the youngest son, but eldest as well, being an only child. There is also a difference that while Askeladden’s adventures often have happy ends, Peer Gynt’s do not.

This is a video with an interview about the play by the Zuidelijk Toneel director, Matthijs Rümke.

In the course of the play, roughly about the years 1817-1867, Peer ages from twenty years old to seventy. Two different actors play old Peer Gynt and young Peer Gynt. On the other hand, several actors play more than one role. For instance, one actress plays Peer’s mother Aase; and also a parson, and the director of the Cairo lunatic asylum. These two professions were anathema for women in Ibsen’s times.

Peer Gynt has a tendency to run away from trouble. That lands him from Norway to Morocco; where he becomes a businessman trading in slaves. Later, he goes to Egypt. According to Het Zuidelijk Toneel, Ibsen sharply criticizes colonialism, capitalism and West European supremacy ideology.

Finally, Peer Gynt returns to his native region in Norway, where he dies.

At the Leiden performance by Het Zuidelijk Toneel, there were electricity problems, making the pause longer than planned. They do not play this long work completely.  For the sake of time, the director made the play shorter. The three milkmaids in Ibsen’s text are still on stage, dancing; but their longish dialogue is gone. The director removed some roles from the play, like the Memnon statue in Egypt. And, earlier, Helga, the sister of Solveig, Peer’s lover.

Another lover of Peer is the troll king’s daughter. In the original, she is dressed in green. In the Zuidelijk Toneel performance, she is dressed in white.

At the end of the play, the audience gave the players much applause.

The artist pays a terrible price in Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder: here.


10 thoughts on “Ibsen’s Peer Gynt on stage

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