Not Ibsen's Peer Gynt
by Joyce Handbury
Henrik Ibsen wrote his five act drama Peer Gynt in 1867 while living in Italy. It tells the story of the downfall and subsequent redemption of a Norwegian peasant anti-hero. It was written in verse and wasnít originally intended for stage performance. However, in 1874, he changed his mind and wrote to his friend and compatriot Edvard Grieg to ask if he would compose the music for a production of the play. Jeff Moule originally devised and designed the play for Belper School students over 20 years ago and having worked with the Players two years ago on his adaptation of ĎCaging the Wild Birdsí was persuaded to adapt the play, especially for them. Jeffís version of the narrative is, and I quote, ďNot Ibsenís Peer Gynt because it seeks to lift the female characters out of his shadow. Perhaps he is who he is because of the way the women in his life have treated and responded to him: nurture as well as nature is at work here. It is the women who have the power to change things is my interpretation of this tale.Ē Jeff Moule certainly fulfills that aim as the women in the play all have strong characters and all are played with great aplomb. There are over 50 characters in the play and with a cast of 23 there was inevitably quite a bit of Ďdoubling-upí. There were four members of the cast playing the role of Peer Gynt covering his life from a weak young boy, through early manhood, to a maturing entrepreneur and finally to an impoverished old man. First was James Brennan as the young Peer, Jamie Snell when he was a little older, Josh Sly as a Man and Nick Mothershaw as a Man with Terry Stevenson as the much older Peer. Each of them was so convincing in the role, especially Terry Stevenson, coping with reality, fairy tales, wonderful trolls and other mysterious beings through the varied travels along his way. Sheila Kay Sly delivered a wonderful portrayal of Peerís mother, Aase, when he was younger as did Maggie Burns who became his mother in his latter years. The scene when Peer, Nick Mothershaw, returned to find his mother dying was particularly moving. Vanessa McAuley who initially played Ingrid, was very expressive when she played the Waitress, her antics as a tree and a horse were hilarious. Kerry-Ann Roe was very regal as the Dovre Queen, Sophie Mander was delightful as the somewhat submissive Solveig, Keren Adler was great as the sexy temptress Green Woman managing to get herself pregnant by Peer and Sarah Holme commanded the stage as the Button Moulder. I loved the singing of Georgia Moule as Helga. She has such a beautiful exquisite voice it was just perfect for the songs she sang. The versatile ensemble, for want of a better word, were superb as the Bazooka playing Village Band, the Trolls, the upper-class Business People and the Lunatics. The set was simple but effective as was the lighting, sound and incidental music and there were some very innovative costumes. It was a shame however, that the back projections failed in the first half of the play but were in full working order for the second half. Jeff Moule must be commended for writing this very quirky, humorous adaptation of Ibsenís Peer Gynt and for directing what was an extremely entertaining piece of theatre. Congratulations to him, the whole cast and everyone else involved.
Arts Beat Review
Not Ibsenís Peer Gynt is a cleverly conceived and deliciously different version of the play you may have seen in the past.
Donít think adaptation because this is drama, written and directed by Jeff Moule, is a rip-roaring re-creation of Ibsenís dramatic poem first published in 1867.
Moule originally devised the play, into which he has injected plenty of humour, for Belper School students over 20 years ago and has been persuaded by Belper Players to adapt it especially for them.
Having staged his Caging the Wild Birds (a loose version of Buchanís spy novel Mr Standfast) two years ago they knew the play and his direction would be first-rate and they werenít wrong.
Most of the audience, which was disappointingly small, probably arrived at the Strutt Centre, in Belper, unsure of what they would witness but left knowing that they had just seen a superb piece of community theatre by an amateur group which embraces every level of ability.
The show has a cast of 21 playing more than 50 characters and they range in age from early teens to those well into their retirement and each one of them approached their part with admirable enthusiasm.
Peer Gynt is a man in search of himself and Ibsen shows him as a feckless young man, a middle-aged tycoon and then finally as a broken old man returning to his native Norway. The play moves between reality and fairytale with trolls and mystical characters along the way.
Most versions explore the social moral and philosophical themes of the play with emphasis simply on the main protagonist, but Moule has sought to lift the female characters out of his shadow with the view that perhaps Peer Gynt is who he is because of the way the women in his life have treated him.
And the writer has succeeded in that aim, as it is the women who shine in his play with terrific parts packed with punch and panache.
In the opening scene it is delightful twin sisters Alyson Koe and Sara Noble-Nesbitt who steal the show in just the most perfect costumes for simple village girls.
As the mother Aase, Sheila Kay Sly gives an assured and well-polished performance and she is also ably replaced in the role halfway through by Maggie Burns.
Vanessa McAuley, who at first plays the bride Ingrid, comes into her own later in the play when she takes on the role as narrator and finds herself begrudgingly standing in as a tree and a horse. Her comic timing is spot on and the audience loved her.
Sarah Holme, who plays the Button Moulder, may have one of the smallest parts in the final scenes but her confident and commanding performance was worth the wait.
Kerry-Ann Roe has just the right amount of haughtiness to be the majestic Dovre Queen and Sophie Mander has mastered the subservience needed to play the devoted Solveig.
Keren Adler is simply marvellous as the seductive Green Woman who tricks Peer Gynt into fatherhood.
The chemistry between Keren and Nick Mothershaw, who was playing the title role at that point in the play, reflects the number of times these two have acted together for The Belper Players. They were certainly not shy or coy as they writhed their way around the stage and it was great fun to watch.
Last to be mentioned, but no means least, is Georgia Moule, the 14-year-old daughter of the director, who played Helga. She sings at various intervals throughout the play and reveals a remarkable voice. I am convinced that this wonít be the last we have seen of this quietly talented teenager.
The rest of the cast is Terry Stevenson, John Mobbs, Roger Whiting, Martin Drake, James Brennan, Jamie Snell, Wayne Parkin, Josh Sly, Sue Cartwright, Judy Ritcher and Andrew Barlow.
Behind the scenes were Susan Stevenson, musical director; Barry Brown, set design and construction; Ann Taylor, costumes and props; Jamie Vella and Henry Pratt, lighting and sound and Joan Hardy, choreography and backstage.