'Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival' Review: ★★★½

Performance Review

Whatever you are expecting, throw it out the window.

Oscar Merlin Griffin

Whatever you are expecting for Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival, throw it out the window. One of the most widely performed Norwegian plays, written by Henrik Ibsen in 1867, it is a romantic dramatic poem that follows a legendary Norwegian folk hero as he seeks his fortune, encountering numerous calamities along the way. Phonofiddle’s “jazz revival”, scripted by Tom Shortland and Josh Nathan, is a Frankenstein-style resurrection, as they squeeze a five-act epic play into a 55 minute Fringe slot, with only 5 people onstage.

Not only do the cast multi-role at breakneck speeds, but half play live jazz music, and one mans the projector. The projectionist (Isra Yasmin, Rory Clark), at first distracting, is as much a part of the cast as an actor, as they sit cross-legged on the stage, manually adjusting hand-cut stencils and drawing set on with a sharpie. The handmade focus of the show, illustrated further with glowing sock puppets for trolls, and costumes worn on top of the actor’s Scandinavian knitted sweaters, creates a technically impressive chaos that leans into the potential mess of the fast-paced story.

Andre Ediagbonya-Davies, playing the difficult Peer Gynt himself, deserves special praise as the driving force of the show, bringing high expression and energy to the role that engages us through Peer’s epic journeying. Alex Wrathall and Harriet Regan also multirole impressively while playing instruments onstage, and Coby O’Brien miraculously tackles keyboard, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and characters ranging from the mountain troll king, to a Moroccan seductress, to Peer’s dying mother. The cast showed immense skill in their range of musical contributions, although sometimes the volume could have been better moderated between the speaking actors and background music.

As a whole, Peer Gynt is deeply weird. I could follow the storyline, but spent the majority of it baffled and laughing out loud at not only the actors’ comedy, but also the other onstage absurdities - the princess pregnant with a sock puppet, the gold bikini bellydance (over a knitted sweater), Peer’s breakdown as Ediagbonya-Davies rips apart an onion with his bare hands and cries about having layers (very Shrek). There is something really creepy-bedtime-story about it - like if Coraline was set in the claymation bit of Elf.

Phonofiddle, the queer theatre company behind Peer Gynt, have another show on at Fringe, Garry Bonds’ Balanced Breakfast, and between these two shows are building a branding for themselves as absurd but extremely talented comedians and storytellers.

Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival is on at Greenside @ Nicolson Square - Lime Studio, on 24th and 26th August. Tickets here!


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