Theatre, 1991

Peer Gynt

On a considerably smaller stage with a radically abbreviated text, Bergman returns to Peer Gynt with a clown-like Börje Ahlstedt in the leading role.

'A breathtakingly shameless theatre experience.'
Tove Ellefsen, Dagens Nyheter

About the production

Bergman's version of Peer Gynt was both an audience and a critical knock-out. It was called Bergman's most imaginative and impudent production and described as a grunting, farting fairy tale thundering through the most diminutive of The Royal Dramatic Theatre stages. Bergman's ability to coordinate a 50-person ensemble in a small physical space aroused critical respect.

In his production of Peer Gynt, Bergman cut about 30% of Ibsen's 5-act drama and divided it into three parts: Tales and Dreams, Foreign Lands, and The Homecoming. The production became a special scenographic challenge in that the Målarsalen stage, where Peer Gynt first opened, is very small and shallow for such an epically conceived play.

The limited acting space was enlarged through the construction of a walkway that extended into the audience, and by a hoisted platform that hovered above the stage and could be moved up and down as well as sideways; it was used as setting and prop for Peer's various predicaments and could simulate a house roof, a raft in a shipwreck, etc.

In a radio programme Bergman described Peer as a mama's boy and super-egoist who did not understand love as a feeling resting on friendship, togetherness, trust and respect. Börje Ahlstedt's Peer was a creature barely saved in the end by a white-haired and blind Solveig (Lena Endre), an esoteric counterpoint to Åse's tough punk mother in the opening scene (Bibi Andersson).

As in his earlier Malmö production, Bergman made no use of music composed specifically for Ibsen's play, for example Grieg. Instead he used the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinus' music. He also borrowed Mozart's three spirits from The Magic Flute and presented them in different forms: as summer farm girls, as belly dancers in the desert, and as a funeral train composed of Peer's unrealized thoughts, unsung songs, and never-shed tears.

"Peer Gynt as a conformist, an artist and Ingmar Bergman's alter ego. The fairy tale is over, the clock is ticking. Death is waiting, and theatre history." (Andreas Rossman, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)


  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide (Amsterdam University Press, 2005).
  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide, (Amsterdam University Press, 2005)
  • Bernt Olsson and Ingemar Algulin, Litteraturens historia i Sverige, (Stockholm: Norstedts Förlag, 1987).
  • Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri: Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, (Stockholm: Carlssons Bokförlag, 2002).