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The Gynt in us All / Individual Design Proposal

Practical task 1 within Unit 1 was a presentation of my individual design proposal in response to the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen. Peer Gynt is a complex story with many and quick scene changes. Ibsen wrote the play in deliberate disregard of the limitations that the conventional stagecraft of the 19th century imposed on drama. Its forty scenes move fast in time and space and between consciousness and the unconscious, blending folkloric fantasy and unsentimental realism. Some might call unstageable.


I am very interested in exploring immersive theatre and I think Peer Gynt would be an ideal play to stage as an immersive performance where the audience could move from one space to another. At the beginning of this project, I had decided to create an immersive performance, perhaps placed in an old hospital building, where Peer Gynt himself would be a guide who tells his story and leads people through different rooms and spaces based on the play. My idea became soon very complicated, and not having an actual space to respond to was difficult. I had a very inspiring and helpful tutorial vith Kerry Bradley where we discussed my project. She encouraged me to simplify my approach to the play and develop further the scene I already had worked on the most.


As I read the play, it soon came obvious that a main theme through the script is Peer’s constant search for himself. My approach to the play is to focus on Peer’s search for his identity by breaking down the script and re-write the story as a monologue. I want to give the audience an insight into Peer’s mind where Peer Gynt is a storyteller who speaks direct to the audience and tells the story of his life. We will get to know other characters through Peer, but some will also be played by actors, like Solveig and Peer’s mother.

                      Henrik Ibsen

The performance is immersive in the way, that I want the audience not to be separate from the performers. The set covers all the theatre space and the audience is seated in different places within the set. Peer speaks directly to the audience and they should get the feeling that they are inside Peer’s world and thoughts, not passive observers, detached from the action.

I base the idea of the script mainly on Peer’s long monologues in the play and the final scenes of the play when Peer is an old man looking back on his life. I read through the script with the theme in mind and picked out few key sentences that I use as a springboard. I have chosen to call the performance “The Gynt in us all”


- What is the difference between a man and a troll?

- Go round. It’s the only way.

- Be true to yourself. But what is the Gyntish self?

- You’re an onion, not an emperor. I’ll peel you, Peer.

- What a lot of layers! Do we never reach the heart!

- Life is walking dryfooted down the stream of time.

- To yourself be true. That’s my philosophy.


I don’t want the performance to be set in any specific time. It could be in the present, but I don’t think that matters. I believe a modern audience can well relate to the play even though it was written nearly 150 years ago. I think we can all see a bit of ourselves in Peer. He is impulsive, thrown by his emotions and at the same time proud and insecure in a lot of ways. He searches for fame and fortune and finally realizes that he would maybe have had it all along if he would have stayed right where he was.

The space I have chosen for this performance is the theatre at Wimbledon College of Art, which was ideal as I could go in whenever I wanted to have a look. For the set design, I did some research into Norwegian nature and architecture. In the play, Peer keeps referring to a wooden cabin deep in the forest where Solveig waits for him. Above the doors hang reindeer horns. That is a very strong image and I use that as my main inspiration for the design. The reindeer horns can represent many things, like Peer’s lie web, the forest, exploration, travelling, guidance, aristocracy and ability to move through life and obstacles.


I want the set to be quite naturalistic. The audience is seated within the set and everyone has different view. I want to use chairs made of timber trunks, but still comfortable. The audience could also be seated on the balconies, but I think the intimacy would be lost by that. When people enter they should hear and smell the forest. The floor should be covered with earth and leaves (or made of materials that represent that feeling). The reindeer horn sculpture stretches through the whole space and should look realistic. It would be ideal if they would grow longer and longer as the play goes on. I’m not sure if that is technically possible, but at least they could grow during an interval. The audience should be allowed to touch the reindeer horns.


The backdrops panels represent the wooden cabin. They could be flown in and out. Behind the panels is gauze which can also be flown in and could either be printed on, or projected onto. After my presentation, Michael Vale gave me a very good comment on the backdrop panels, because they do in fact change the theatre space from being in the round to being an end on theatre. That is a shame as the performance would probably work better in the round. The wooden panels could well be placed somewhere else in the space, like above the set like a ceiling.

To give the impression of jumping to one place to the next I use simple but effective solutions like props, projection, lighting and smoke. Using different locations in the set itself and playing with scale by using puppets, shadows and projection. 


To tell a story, we don’t always need big scene changes, a single prop can often tell a big story. When Peer first comes into the stage, he is returning to Norway, carrying big suitcases which are filled with things that he has collected during his lifetime. I imagine Peer using the props when telling his story. He picks them up, one or few at a time. Examples of props would be: all kinds of masks with different versions of Peer, a marionette, buttons that Peer made as a boy, souvenirs from his travelling, a church bell to use in case of a troll emergency, onions, mirrors and many other.


For the costumes I sought inspiration to the Norweigian folk costume or “Bunad”. In Norway, there is a rich tradition for national costumes and each district or area has its own costume. I designed three costumes in detail to give some idea of the style and colour palette: Peer, Solveig and Åse. I want the costumes to be quite simple, mainly in black/navy and white/beige and other colours should not be too bright. I chose an Icelandic actor, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, to play Peer.


I think the sound and music of the play should be quite modern. John Grant’s music gives an idea of what kind of music I would like to hear and I believe his song GMF could be the final tune of the performance.

The slide show for the presentation.

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