Review: Not Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Belper Players

Four faces of Peer Gynt
Four faces of Peer Gynt

Not Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is a cleverly conceived and deliciously different version of the play you may have seen in the past.

Don’t think adaptation because this is drama, written and directed by Jeff Moule, is a rip-roaring re-creation of Ibsen’s dramatic poem first published in 1867.

Moule originally devised the play, into which he has injected plenty of humour, for Belper School students over 20 years ago and has been persuaded by Belper Players to adapt it especially for them.

Having staged his Caging the Wild Birds (a loose version of Buchan’s spy novel Mr Standfast) two years ago they knew the play and his direction would be first-rate and they weren’t wrong.

Most of the audience, which was disappointingly small, probably arrived at the Strutt Centre, in Belper, unsure of what they would witness but left knowing that they had just seen a superb piece of community theatre by an amateur group which embraces every level of ability.

The show has a cast of 21 playing more than 50 characters and they range in age from early teens to those well into their retirement and each one of them approached their part with admirable enthusiasm.

Peer Gynt is a man in search of himself and Ibsen shows him as a feckless young man, a middle-aged tycoon and then finally as a broken old man returning to his native Norway. The play moves between reality and fairytale with trolls and mystical characters along the way.

Most versions explore the social moral and philosophical themes of the play with emphasis simply on the main protagonist, but Moule has sought to lift the female characters out of his shadow with the view that perhaps Peer Gynt is who he is because of the way the women in his life have treated him.

And the writer has succeeded in that aim, as it is the women who shine in his play with terrific parts packed with punch and panache.

In the opening scene it is delightful twin sisters Alyson Koe and Sara Noble-Nesbitt who steal the show in just the most perfect costumes for simple village girls.

As the mother Aase, Sheila Kay Sly gives an assured and well-polished performance and she is also ably replaced in the role halfway through by Maggie Burns.

Vanessa McAuley, who at first plays the bride Ingrid, comes into her own later in the play when she takes on the role as narrator and finds herself begrudgingly standing in as a tree and a horse. Her comic timing is spot on and the audience loved her.

Sarah Holme, who plays the Button Moulder, may have one of the smallest parts in the final scenes but her confident and commanding performance was worth the wait.

Kerry-Ann Roe has just the right amount of haughtiness to be the majestic Dovre Queen and Sophie Mander has mastered the subservience needed to play the devoted Solveig.

Keren Adler is simply marvellous as the seductive Green Woman who tricks Peer Gynt into fatherhood.

The chemistry between Keren and Nick Mothershaw, who was playing the title role at that point in the play, reflects the number of times these two have acted together for The Belper Players. They were certainly not shy or coy as they writhed their way around the stage and it was great fun to watch.

Last to be mentioned, but no means least, is Georgia Moule, the 14-year-old daughter of the director, who played Helga. She sings at various intervals throughout the play and reveals a remarkable voice. I am convinced that this won’t be the last we have seen of this quietly talented teenager.

The rest of the cast is Terry Stevenson, John Mobbs, Roger Whiting, Martin Drake, James Brennan, Jamie Snell, Wayne Parkin, Josh Sly, Sue Cartwright, Judy Ritcher and Andrew Barlow.

Behind the scenes were Susan Stevenson, musical director; Barry Brown, set design and construction; Ann Taylor, costumes and props; Jamie Vella and Henry Pratt, lighting and sound and Joan Hardy, choreography and backstage.

The play can be seen tonight and tomorrow at 7.30pm and tomorrow at 2pm.

Go to http://www.belperplayers.com for more details and tickets. This is a play which deserves to be seen by more people don’t miss it if you have a chance to go.