The play that was originally banned in Britain, Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, is back in an intimate and involving production, directed by Richard Eyre, at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, London.
Helene Alving has spent her life suspended in an emotional void after the death of her cruel, debauched but outwardly charming husband. She is determined to escape the ghosts of her past by telling her son, Oswald, the truth about his father. But on his return from his life as a painter in France, Oswald reveals how he has inherited the legacy of Alving’s dissolute life.
Written when Ibsen was living in Rome in 1881, this work which deals with moral cowardice, patriarchy, class, sex, hypocrisy and heredity, still resonates today, and the playwright’s comment that “every man shares the responsibility and guilt of the society to which he belongs” is certainly true in our more liberal 21st century. Eyre has staged the production without an interval so that the dramatic tension is not lost. Indeed the raw emotional truth as well as the dark heart of the drama is strongly conveyed and surprisingly, there is also a good deal of dark humour too.
Tim Hatley’s stylish set of the drawing room of Helene’s home with its translucent walls that make people in the adjoining rooms seem to us like ghosts themselves is most effective.
But it is the intensity of the acting that makes this production stand out. Leading a first rate cast is Lesley Manville who as Helene Alving perfectly captures a woman haunted by the memories of the past and fearful of dreadful developments in the future, while Jack Lowden is no less impressive as her increasingly distraught bohemian artist son Oswald and he is at his best when he conveys the sheer terror of his terrible affliction. Will Keen with his grating voice and cold hand gestures, is effective as Pastor Manders, the self-anointed spiritual advisor Helene Alving and her troubled son, a man convinced that he is always doing the right thing while always getting everything wrong. Brian McCardie as the disreputable builder Jacob Engstrand and Charlene McKenna as the daughter Regina Oswald also deserve praise.
This then is a masterly production that remains in the mind long after the final curtain and richly deserves a West End transfer.
Ghosts runs at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 23 November
Box office 020 7359 4404
Last modified: April 7, 2021