James McArdle, familiar to Edinburgh audiences for his memorable performance as James I in 2014, excels as the slippery, charming, charismatic Peter as we follow his lifelong struggle for self-knowledge. A narcissist, a seducer, a fantasist convinced he’s destined for greatness, Ibsen’s self-obsessed hero is a man for our own times. “If I can’t be exceptional, I don’t want to be,” he proudly admits. Remind you of anyone? The parallel between Peter and our current crop of political leaders is obvious, but he is equally a reflection of our age of rampant individualism, where social media gives us all the ability to present only the most enhanced version of ourselves.
For all its brilliance, the play is flawed. At three and a half hours long, it can’t help but sag in places, with some scenes feeling unnecessarily drawn out or even redundant. The sheer number of different elements that are crammed in – political satire, big musical numbers, black comedy, magic realism and many others – means the tone is somewhat uneven too. But the energy and exuberance of McArdle’s performance keeps the whole thing afloat. He really is superb.