Ghosts - Comedy Theatre 2001

Tuesday, 3 April, 2001
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

The play is set in Mrs Alving’s country house in Norway. Mrs Alving is preparing for the opening of an orphanage that she has paid for as a memorial to her late husband. The Pastor who is also an old family friend is helping her with the details when her son Oswald, an artist, returns home for the opening.

The arrival of her son sets the stage for Ibsen's moral ‘melodrama’. Why was her son ‘farmed out’ by his mother? Why did Mrs Alvig desert her husband in the first year of their marriage and later return? In a bid to defend herself from the accusation charges of society Mrs Alvin reveals all, first to the pastor and then to her son and other members of the household. After all, her husband is now dead so why should she continue to martyr her reputation to defend the reputation of her dead husband? The truth is upsetting for all.

This drama was written over a hundred years ago so one can imagine how controversial and explosive it must have been with its subject matter touching on infidelity, incest, betrayal, hypocrisy and Euthanasia! Even though the plot itself is dated, the play still stands up well as a critique on what society may or may not consider to be moral? Euthanasia is even now a controversial subject even more so in 1881 when Ghost was written. No theatre in Scandinavia would accept the script, and so the play was first performed in Norway in 1882.

Francesca Annis produces a wonderful and strong performance as ‘Mrs Helena Alving’. She magnificently captures the pain and anguish of a tortured woman keeping a ‘dreadful’ secret for decades in order to protect the one person she cared for. A deep and emotional performance that is absorbing. However, I’m not too sure about the performance of Anthony Andrews as ‘Pastor Manders’. He comes across as very stern and unemotional. Perhaps this is to fully portray the strong moral values of the church of his day? However, one feels no warmth in his wish to protect and guide others, only cold condemnation. A gentle side to his character would have made Mrs Alving’s warmth for him more understandable.

This new production has received favourable notices from the popular press…. NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD describes it as “stupendous drama of family life haunted by sex, lies and secrets” . However he goes on to say it is an “awkward adaptation”, which “offers no fresh slant upon Ibsen’s guilt-laden family”. PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, “Powerful, if patchy, production.” He goes on to say, “Not a great Ghosts, … but a satisfying one.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, “This fine new production by Robin Phillips … once again proved its power to grip and disturb.” He goes on to say, “Its precision, and its power, remain shatteringly effective.” PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "Francesca a quite remarkable performance.." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, “ It’s a highly intelligent production, but also a refreshingly dramatic one, finely acted at every level…. It’s the most impressive performance I’ve seen [Francesca] Annis give.”

Lasting just over two hours this solid production is typical Ibsen so you know what to expect!!


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