Peer Gynt, Stage 65 at Salisbury Playhouse

revPeerGynt2IBSEN’S epic play Peer Gynt, based on a Norwegian folk tale, has been described as “the story of a life based on procrastination and avoidance” and certainly introduces its audience to an anti-hero.

At Salisbury, the Youth Theatre director Dave Orme saw it as a chance to create a modern play for a large cast of young people, using a group of young women to provide the chorus.

In this rambling five act drama there are many opportunities for individuals to shine,  and over the three performance days, three different actors played the title role and neither the programme nor the photo credits give any clue as to who is who.  So, on Thursday, either Ben Bartlet, Sam Haddock or Charlie Thomas played Peer, or maybe all of them.

In the first half, this Peer brought some real feeling into the scene with his dying mother (Megs Slark), and it was a welcome quiet relief from the undisciplined shouting. His problem – shared with several other individual performers – was that he seemed to have thrown away any Ts from his speech at the end of words. No-one expects RP, but one of the theatre professionals leading this probably talented group of young actors should have pointed out, from day one, that to be heard around an auditorium you need to finish your words with clarity.

revPeerGyntI am sure that the concept of the updating, a satirical look at celebrity and identity in an age where you can be what you want to be, was potentially clever, and the performances were certainly energetic.

But the girls were mostly inaudible unless all speaking together, and the boys just roared their lines with little variation.  It made following the story very difficult, and this was the third and final night, so glitches should have been ironed out.

Specially impressive were Jacob Ruddle as the Troll King and Fraser Adams as the bridegroom, but it could have been so much better, more comprehensible, more enjoyable for the audience (and probably the cast), if only the director had added discipline to the dynamism and variety to the virtuosity.

I frequently see youth theatre shows around the region, and while comparisons are odious, if young performers in Yeovil, in Bath, in Bristol, in Poole, in Exeter and in Bournemouth can cope with rigorous direction, my guess is that so can those in Salisbury.


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