St John's Night

5
It's Ibsen, but not as we know it!
By Robert Iles

Well, that was a surprise - perhaps more accurately that was a complete delight!

Last night we had a completely magical evening in the fabulous Jermyn Street Theatre as Anthony Biggs' production of St John's Night opened. It's a little hard to describe this play, think A Midsummer Night's Dream meets Peer Gynt, with jokes. Whatever you do, don't think "Ahh, Ibsen, I know what that means" as this really isn't like any Ibsen you have ever seen as this early play, now receiving its UK Premiere some 159 years after it was first shown in Norway, is something of a romp, definitely funny and, in an odd way, really rather sweet. St John's Night was so rejected in its first production that Ibsen refused to have it in his "collected works", it would eem that, at the time, the good people of Bergen did not take kindly to having fun poked at their born-again-Nationalism by a young, unproven, playwright. But there is no dark side here, no real teeth to the criticsm, more a gentle mocking of the academic, cerebral, interpretation of the myths and legends that still coloured the everyday experiences of the rurual population - as each drinks the Goblin-spiked punch on Midsummer Night and views the legends come to life, each intrprets what they see through the lens of their belief - in the end, each finds their true love, old wrongs are righted and all is well with the world. I don't do it justice, go see it and you'll understand (fail to see it and you will be the poorer for it ... or is that the Goblin's talking).

Anthony Biggs handles the text with assurance giving us a chance to enjoy all the comedy and making sure that the, occasionaly somewhat involved, background and storytelling never drag. This is a strong cast and it is quite a feat to get them all on the tiny stage without it feeling cramped or awkward - but achieve it they did thanks, in no small part, to James Perkins' clever design. Danny Lee Wynter's "Poulsen" provides a fabulous core to this piece, pompous, self-important but always oddly sympathetic, he drives the play along beautifully while Ed Birch (Birk) and Louise Calf (Anne) are so delightfully watchable and utterly credible.

I would love to see this show done more often, I see it working really well as a summer panto in an open air setting - perhaps near the foot of Glastonbury Tor to fit into the midsummer magical theme ... more people deserve to see it - wait, they can, they just need to get down to Jermyn Street Theatre! Go on, give yourself a real treat, lift your spirits, you know you want to! 


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