Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of the National's PEER GYNT?

Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of the National's PEER GYNT?

Ibsen's classic is reinvented as a riotous adventure for the 21st century.

Peter Gynt is searching for something: himself. Traveling from the mountains of Scotland to the pool-sides of Florida, he'll meet talking hyenas, two-headed trolls and even an Egyptian Sphinx. But his ultimate transformation may not be all that he hoped for...

Playing the rebellious antihero, James McArdle (Angels In America) is reunited with David Hare and Jonathan Kent, the partnership behind the triumphant Young Chekhov at Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre.

This outrageous modern myth is designed by the Tony award-winning Richard Hudson (The Lion King), with an original score from Paul Englishby (BBC's Luther and Dr Foster) and movement direction from Polly Bennett (Bohemian Rhapsody).

Let's see what the critics had to say...


Gary Naylor, BroadwayWorld: McArdle holds it together - never has a play's title been more earned - but he gets excellent support from Ann Louise Ross as his mother and Guy Henry as a devilish harbinger of death. Tamsin Carroll is splendid both as the seductive daughter of the Troll King and as Anitra, who sets Peter up as a guru and then cleans him out in a nice reversal of the usual cult dynamic.

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard: In the lead, the charismatic James McArdle falls back on bluster and showman's patter because he's playing a character with no character. Most of the supporting roles are so thin they barely register. Women inevitably submit to Gynt, whether ardently or reluctantly. In place of the Edvard Grieg score that often accompanies Ibsen's version, we get a few insipid songs by Paul Englishby. Designer Richard Hudson impressively crashes a plane and sails a trawler into the main set, a semi-disk of Dunoon lawn.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: McArdle, on stage for most of the play's three-and-a-half hours, impressively captures not just Peter's progress from youth to age but also his tragic awareness of his own emptiness. In a large cast, there is striking support from Anya Chalotra as the faithful Sabine and Jonathan Coy as a square-snouted troll-king. Jonathan Kent's production and Richard Hudson's design virtuosically meet the demands of a text that transports us from Dunoon to a Trump-style golf-course, a Riyadh hotel, the sands near Giza and a storm-lashed ship.

Mark Shenton, LondonTheatre.co.uk: It's a collection of vignettes as a man trudges on an existential crisis through his life, trying to find its essential meaning, against the odds of crises, large and small. These include a very moving scene as he comforts his dying mother (and as someone who witnessed my own mother's death last November, this spoke to me with a profound truth and feeling), and surviving both a plane crash and a shipwreck (both events brilliantly staged in Richard Hudson's sets and Dick Straker's video design).

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out London: The fact that 'Peter Gynt' often feels crass is maybe beside the point. It's that it's so glib it makes little emotional sense. It's difficult to care about Gynt when he becomes a complete monster so quickly, and still less so when he sourly picks through the pieces of the life he left behind in the final section - even if his conversation with Death at the end is actually quite haunting considered in isolation. But really Kent's production coasts on McArdle's brio and the lurid incidents of Gynt's adventures. However, for all the bonkers interludes - did I mention that there's a random smattering of musical numbers?!? - and McArdle's brilliance, 'Peter Gynt' increasingly feels like a chore, and a smattering of good humour can't conceal the play's fundamental sour slogginess.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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