The Big I Am is not an adaptation of Peer Gynt. Rather, it’s a re-imagining of Ibsen’s play in which Robert Farquhar takes key people and milestones from the picaresque folktale epic and builds his own new play around them.
The result is a sweeping, anarchic, story of the classical everyman figure, and a perfect fit for the Everyman Theatre’s stage.
Farquhar retains Peer Gynt’s name, while translating others into local equivalents. So Solveig becomes Sylvie and Ingrid becomes Cynthia, the latter locking herself in the toilet at her wedding reception, before running off with Gynt and kick-starting his rollercoaster of a life.
Three actors play Peer at different ages. Nathan McMullen takes the part for all of Act I, handing over to Liam Tobin just before the interval. In Act II Tobin takes him across continents, through success and catastrophe before, finally, Richard Bremmer carries the character to the end of his life.
The journey tips back and forth from high comedy to deep despair. There are show stopping scenes with Peer Gynt stumbling upon a hippy commune, witnessing the birth of a child and taking on the guise of an evangelical preacher.
The three Peer Gynts and surrounding ensemble deliver flawless performances under Nick Bagnall’s eagle-eyed direction, which picks out every detail while barely pausing for breath.
This is the kind of work that the Everyman was built on. Local characters thrust into a global story and personal politics seamlessly blended with bigger questions.