Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival by Cambridge company Phonofiddle! comes with an intriguing proposition: taking Ibsen's complex work and transmuting it into an hour of jazz-infused theatre. Unfortunately, the execution doesn't quite live up to the promise.
The ensemble's energy and endeavour are commendable, but the overall lack of polish is apparent
This is a play which was famous for having a sprawling narrative once considered unstageable, and here that story is condensed into a series of vignettes that trace both Gynt's physical journey from Norway to North Africa and back, and the journey his character goes on from capricious youth to repentant old man. This structure, while ambitious, fails to translate the depth and intricacy of the original material into the revised format. It is necessarily reductive, but not entirely satisfying.
Technically, the production delivers an inconsistent mixture of highs and lows. The use of a projector to shift backgrounds adds a clever touch, but the intrusive noise from fans pointed at the audience to regulate temperature in the performance space, and the ever-present music, make a fair bit of the cast’s dialogue inaudible. Andre Ediagbonya-Davies's robust portrayal of Gynt is a notable exception as he attacks the role with gusto. His full-blooded performance can certainly be heard, even if there’s not a lot of nuance to be found in the delivery.
When it comes to the music, the show is similarly inconsistent. The playing and composition generally range from competent if not particularly inspired, to a bit all over the place. However, it's not a complete disappointment on this front. A highlight comes during a sequence of music and dance where Gynt attempts and fails a seduction. For a while, the play seems to find its footing and offers a glimpse of what might have been achieved.
Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival is an adventurous undertaking that ultimately fails to deliver on its dramatic and musical promises. The ensemble's energy and endeavour are commendable, but the overall lack of polish is apparent. This is a company with lots of potential, but they’ve not delivered a production which is refined and cohesive enough to put in front of paying customers.