Peer Gynt at The O’Reilly Theatre

October 24, 2013

Ambition and ability collide to make a dazzling spectacle on the O Reilly Theatre stage in Rough Magic’s breathtaking modern mounting of Peer Gynt. Adapted with merry veneration by Arthur Riordan, it is a Rubik’s Cube of intent that’s marvelous individual parts never quite align to make a thorough and involving picture.

Set in the present day, in a sanatorium, the epic and profound tales Rory Nolan’s boastful and self-beguiling Gynt spin, take the form of psychotic episodes where the patients and personal of the rest home populate his fantasies and memories before intruding with his reality. Placed around the suitably epic set (designed and lit by John Comiskey and Alan Farquarson) the supporting cast bounce in and out of a multitude of roles and responsibilities, Riordan’s Christy Moore aping verse rolling of their tongues as Nolan skillfully weaves in and out of lucidity. Parker’s scythe like direction insures we remain lucid also.

The rattling lilt of the verse, the technical skill and precision of the cast and the sheer Herculean effort that went into pulling the production off will leave you so agog that it’s not until the end of the first act, as Karen Ardiff’s Aase lies dying, that you realise that you just don’t care about what happens to any of these characters. And soon you realise that everything you have admired about the production to date-the verse, the set, the effort- has ensnared it, like a Chinese Finger Trap, so that it can never become more than a caboodle of scenes, that at first impress, but at three hours long, start to fall flat.

The repetitive rhythm of Riordan’s text places enormous pressure on the cast to hit their mark and keep the beat, provided live by Celtic Jazz ensemble Tarab. But the energy and effort needed to do this has a knockdown effect on character, which Parker compensates for through Joan O’Clery’s costumes. But it’s not enough to sustain the gargantuan playing time and we soon tire of the flash and long for some substance.

The reality is that no company in Ireland has the resources to employ actors for long enough a rehearsal period to free them from the demands that such a style places on them. To get them to a place where they would feel comfortable enough to play with the verse. Their timing is remarkable, particularly Nolan, who the cast rely on to make them live in the eyes of the audience. But technique is not enough to keep us involved till the very end, and Riordan’s strict adherence to the rhythm sucked the production of its profundity.

Perhaps they could have saved some cash by forgoing the “would you look at that” set which quickly looses its umph since all of the action is penned in stage right and it’s only function, other than grounding it in the setting the company have picked out for it, seems to be to keep Tarab from view.

Rough Magic have cooked up a dazzling feast for the eyes and the ears. But its one that does not speak to the soul. Which, given the timelessness yet timeliness of the piece, is a pity.


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