Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” plays upon entering the Everyman which is apt as Robert Farquhar’s reimagining of Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play, Peer Gynt proves to be just that. The stage is empty, the lights are dark, the room is unassuming, no one is expecting the chaos they are about to witness. THE BIG I AM starts with a bang, quite literally; thunder and lightning light up the sparse stage, a woman in the midst of labour is pushed into the middle of the unsuspecting audience and here we meet Peer Gynt, the brash, selfish maverick on a mission to become ‘the big I am’ of the 20th century. Inspired by his love for The Beatles, Farquhar has gone Scouse and taken Ibsen’s classic tale of a Norwegian farm boy on a journey to the North African desert and turned it into a John Lennon-esque mission of ambition and self-discovery in the Northern baby boomer generation.
Starting in a typical 1960s kitchen, no doubt inspired by Lennon’s own, the rabbit hole starts to deepen. Gynt throws his mother into a kitchen cabinet, a sham wedding is crashed, sledge hammers are violently wielded and we end up in a pub that wouldn’t be out of place in Tim Burton’s, Beetlejuice; if I say Peer Gynt three times fast will he appear and drag me to this nightmarish place? Not going to lie, I am tempted. A two-headed bar maid serves the young Gynt a bubbling pint which results in him being married off to a green lady from the deep and a hippy commune made of cast and audience celebrates all things peace and love. It all sounds a bit crazy but that is the essence of the story; life throws you curveballs and sometimes trying to make sense of the world becomes a nightmarish challenge.
Aside from all the crazy, there are moments of pure traditional theatre. Nathan McMullen, who plays the young Peer Gynt, provides an emotional monologue during his mother’s death and grounds the story in the passing and exploration of time and fragility of life.
The second act leads itself to an older incarnation of Gynt played by Liam Tobin. A 1980s property tycoon turned 1990s televangelist, Gynt has been on a whirlwind adventure to try and prove himself in a world that Farquhar describes as “godless…the biggest fairy tale of all”. Ending with Richard Bremmer’s older, more serious portrayal of Gynt, he not only closes the show but closes a wonderful season for the Everyman Rep company. Doing what the Everyman does best, Farquhar and director Nick Bagnall have injected modernity into a classic story and made it relatable to a 21st century audience; you can tell every effort has been put into this production, from cast and crew, each member gets their chance to shine.
However, The Big I Am is definitely not for those with a sensitive disposition; explicit language and lewd humour mixed with sex scenes, masturbation and drug use are not the usual scenarios you see treading the boards but it works, it’s refreshing, it’s a little bit naughty and it gives the feeling of end of school rebellion and frivolity. It’s the Everyman Rep company’s chance to finish the season with a bang, and go out with a bang they do, so to speak.