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Ghosts, Almeida Theatre – Review

Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Richard Eyre
★★★★★

Pros: A devastating and powerful play, stunning performances and a simple but wonderfully atmospheric set.

Cons: Would be hard put to find any!

Our Verdict: An assured and brilliant new adaptation.

Courtesy of Almeida Theatre

Ghosts is set in a dark house in rural Norway. Helene Alving is preparing a memorial for her late husband with the help of Pastor Manders. Her son Oswald has just returned from a number of years away from home where he has been living the Bohemian lifestyle as a painter in Paris.

Over the course of the evening, we see the façade put up by Mrs Alving slowly crumble. As she reveals to Pastor Manders the reality of her marriage and the circumstances under which she sent her son away, we realise that her life has been one of pent up anger, pain and repression.

The set is a dark sober drawing room, the walls of which are translucent, so the audience can guess at the silhouettes of the characters in the other room. The brilliant play with lighting really helps to emphasise the sense that the character’s pasts flicker around them, never leaving them alone.

At a tight 90 minutes with no interval, the play follows an intense trajectory towards a devastating ending. Lesley Manville is extremely strong as Helene Alving, but for me the most stunning performance came from Will Keen as the pastor. He manages to play an angry, nervous, repressed man with a real human touch. He is completely believable and I felt a huge amount of compassion for him despite his flaws.

Ghosts was translated and adapted by the director, and he has done an excellent job at making the language feel vibrant and modern without being too anachronistic. This play is about a number of issues that are no longer directly personally relevant to modern audiences (and are unlikely to shock them as they did in Ibsen’s time), but as great drama, it transcends its time. This adaptation in particular manages to pull out the human power of the tragedy and mount an attack on timeless traits such as moral cowardice. If you don’t think 19th century depressing Norwegian drama can speak to you, think again!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Ghosts runs at the Almeida Theatre until 23 November 2013. Box Office: 020 7359 4404 or book online at http://www.almeida.co.uk/event/ghosts

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  • I agree, hard to find cons to this great work! Do you really think “the play is about a number of issues that are no longer personally relevant to modern audiences”…what are they? Loveless marriages forced on young women by their families and society? The risk of diseases spread by philandering husbands to their wives and children who are then blamed and ostracised? Moralising do-gooders blaming the misfortunate for not working hard enough to avoid misfortune? I’d say this play is still pretty relevant beyond the drama. But, lets not get too wrapped up in the sub-text – it is still a great drama!