The Black Hole Theatre Company (BHTC) is kicking off 2019 with their season’s second mainstage production, bringing Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt to the John J. Conklin Theatre.
Composed of five acts, the play takes the audience from the mountainside in eastern Norway to North Africa and the Sahara.
Professor emeritus and co-founder of the BHTC, Chris Johnson is the director of Peer Gynt. He led an 18-member cast of both students and alumni for the 19th Royal Manitoba Theatre Company’s Master Playwright Festival.
Johnson said the BHTC’s criteria for choosing a play often revolves around including the greatest number of students. Every actor has a major part to play in at least one scene.
“It’s always been our job in the festival to do a really important play by the playwright that’s being celebrated, but one that not many other theatre companies in the city can do, usually because of a really big cast,” said Johnson.
Ibsen’s plays explore broad ideas, asking existential questions that are still relevant today.
“He’s not a guy for small talk. He has big ideas about the meaning of life, about social change, about what our responsibility to ourselves as human beings is,” said Johnson.
“He was very big on the idea of vocation. That it is everybody’s duty to be the best self that you can.”
“Peer Gynt is a play about a guy who doesn’t take that duty very seriously and lives to regret it. [He] gets to the end of his life and worries that he missed the chance to live the fullest life he could […] But he is saved by the love of a good woman.”
BHTC’s production of Peer Gynt uses Errol Durbach’s translated adaptation. In this adaptation, two Peer Gynts are present, a young Gynt and an old Gynt.
Subsequently, explained Johnson, this decision creates the space for turning many of the play’s long monologues into interesting dialogues between the two Gynts.
“Young Peer is very much a contemporary of most of our audience, he is 20. And has the worries, and the hopes and anxieties of every 20-year-old.”
“I think a lot of people in our student audience will identify with Peer Gynt because he is asking those big questions about himself. Who am I? What am I doing here? What’s the purpose of life?” said Johnson.
“His pursuit of sex gets in the way of taking himself as seriously as Ibsen thinks he should.”
The other attractive aspect of Peer Gynt is the play’s comedic staying power. The script’s sexual innuendos and Ibsen alluding to mid-19th century Norwegian politics manage to continue to make today’s audiences laugh.
The play will also feature new music written by U of M student Cuinn Joseph.
Peer Gynt runs at the Black Hole Theatre from Jan. 23 until Feb. 2. For more information visit bhtc.ca.