Dundee Rep, until Sat 13 Oct
For as long as people question their identity, pondering who they are and what role they play in the world, Peer Gynt will occupy a prominent place in the culture. It would, indeed become still more notable were all productions of Ibsen’s classic of this quality. There is a sense that outgoing Dundee Rep artistic director Dominic Hill wanted to sign off with something special, and he does so triumphantly with Colin Teevan’s expletive-enriched version of this mighty existential picaresque narrative.
In it, the young Peer (Keith Fleming), here a fantasist of unusual articulacy, creates havoc throughout his village with his brawling and wenching, not least for his adoring mother (Ann Louise Ross) and his beloved Solveig (Helen Mackay). The inevitable departure of the outcast finds him veering from the vulgar nouveau riche Troll kingdom to a caravan in the forest before casting still further afield. An older, but by no means wiser Peer (Gerry Mulgrew), proceeds through adventures in arms sales, messianic religions and institutionalised madness, before the final, belated realisation that only love – in his case a neglected aspect of life – can centre identity.
Hill’s production features much colour and fury, with Teevan’s version pushing into pop cultural reference and wild extravagances of language to powerful effect; the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’ is used to splendid comic effect. All the while the inevitability of Peer’s demise is tagged at each stage of life. The performances are splendid, with Mulgrew’s potty-mouthed egoist particularly compelling (his ‘away oaf tae fuck’ to the figure of death is a masterclass in comic hubris), though only just shading Fleming’s out of control younger Peer. There are also some strong turns in support, with Gail Watson’s slapperish Troll Princess and Irene MacDougall’s cool, apparatchik journalist particular treats. All the grim knockabout of this journey leads to a deeply emotional finale which might well make for the best night of theatre you’ll see this side of Christmas.