Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Adaptor: Robert Farquhar
Director: Nick Bagnall
It would fair to say we have all encountered someone like Peer Gynt at some point in our life: bold, brash, cocky, a charmer, and chancer, who can equally talk is way out of a scrape as he could adeptly talk himself into one. He is the sort of person you can love and loath in equal measure, certainly a most intriguing character indeed, which bodes well for the Everyman Theatre’s latest production The Big I Am.
Based on the play five-act play, Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen. The Big I Amis a reworking of this classic tale that shifts the action from rural 19thcentury Norway, to 1940’s Liverpool in the grip of war. We see Gynt grow into his cocky, fantasist whose notoriety is only matched by his ego. On a whim, Gynt decides to attend the wedding of old flame, Cynthia just to stir up trouble. It is here that he meets a local singer, Sylvie and there is an instant connection between the two.
This meeting, coupled with a vicious revenge attack from locals who have had enough Gynt’s trickster ways takes us on an epic journey through 1960’s flower power Liverpool, the excess and debauchery of the 1980’s, stopping off at Dubai, India, Las Vegas and even the notion of hell, finally ending up back in Liverpool where it all began. This a tale of redemption, self-obsession, regret, and quantifying what is important in life, a parable about losing yourself and eventually finding your way back home.
This is a bold, ambitious attempt at retelling the epic story, which despite some flaws just about hits its mark. Right from the get-go, the production set its stall out by letting you know that that subtlety is out of the window, that this will be bawdy affair packed with lewd one-liners a plenty. It certainly has an in-your-face feel to proceedings and pulls no punches: sex, violence, and crude jokes they’re all here. Some of it at first came across a bit ‘panto’, but once you adjust to this your experience will be all the better for it
There are some great set pieces from 1960’s hippy commune (that included a spot of audience participation), a 1980’s investor meeting, and an evangelical intervention that had the audience in fits of laughter: they really work, and these scenes will certainly live on long in the memory.
My main gripe is that it tries to pack in far too much, leaving some of the plotlines undeveloped especially the relationships between Gynt and Sylvie, it needs more flesh on it leaving the final act somewhat unremarkable, plot development has been pushed aside in favour of more comedic moments.
The cast are outstanding: 14 actors playing various roles throughout – they work their socks and are clearly having a lot of fun with the production. Gynt is played by three different actors at various stages of his life: Nathan McMullen is outstanding at the Younger Gynt, a performance packed with swagger and charisma vital to the role. Liam Tobin as the middle-aged Gynt equally up the task as the loud brash anti-hero crashing into one crisis after another. Finally, Richard Bremmer gives a suitable, reserved performance as the elder, broken Gynt.
The production certainly plays various trump cards throughout. The several uses of video are hilarious and bang on the money: the Dubai hotel video may be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in quite some time, with the attention to detail quite remarkable, including the bit of distortion at the bottom of the screen that anyone who owned a VCR will understand all to clearly. In addition, there is a fantastic version of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You delivered by Elvis which is great fun if a little absurd.
Despite a few issues The Big I Am is certainly worth catching in it’s run at the Everyman, whilst it may not live up to the praise that Peer Gynt would undoubtedly heap onto it, it certainly won’t disappoint either.
Runs until the 14 July 2018 | Image: Contributed