Monday 25 November 2013

Theatre Review: Ghosts, Henrik Ibsen, Almeida Theatre, London

Poster images for Ghosts

One preoccupation which has united all four performances of Ibsen plays I’ve been lucky enough to see over the last year or so has been an obsession with space. There was the revolving set for The Doll’s House at the Young Vic, which meant that Nora was always on view and her home life seemed set up and unreal; there was the gradual compression of the stage in the production of The Enemy of the People I saw in Dublin, which helped create an atmosphere of domestic and political oppression. And in Hedda Gabler internal glass partitions and doors allowed us to penetrate deeper into the home and continue to watch behind closed doors. 

This production of Ibsen’s 1881 Ghosts at the Almeida took this last idea and developed it even further. Tim Hatley’s design allowed us to see into the room beyond that of the main action, and so watch the ghostly echoes of the past play out, and also at times the world outside the Alvings’ house. Peter Mumford’s clever lighting  meant at times these divisions were transparent, at others reflective, creating atmospheric shadows and adding to the increasing doom. By the time Mrs Alving, Regina and Oswald sit over their champagne, the stage is in darkness, lit only by a single lamp. And Oswald’s final plea ‘Give me the sun’ is fulfilled in a blaze of red light which replicates perfectly a beautiful, if terrible, dawn.

Richard Eyre’s production doesn’t just look wonderful. The cast is strong and well-chosen. Lesley Manville’s Mrs Alving is entirely believable – strong but suffering, damaged by her past but still capable of moments of passionate hope and longing. The scenes between her and her son (Jack Lowden) were among the most affective, playing well with physical distance and blocking, and showcasing Manville’s acting at its most reactive. Charlene McKenna brings something fresh to the Regina role, which I think can come off in some productions as a little superficial when compared with the other characters. As she is here, Regina is simply youthful, but while given to these childish flights of fancy, is ultimately practical and highly capable – ‘worthy’ of the trust Oswald wished to place in her and similar in her pragmatism to her ‘father’ (played here by Brian McCardie).

Photograph from Ghosts - Hugo Glendenning
Only Will Keen’s Pastor Manders comes off as a little cardboard-cut-out but this is the fault of the adaption, not the actor. Eyre’s script seeks clarity and followability but one problem it risks is that the Pastor appears to be wrong headedly conservative, and is subject to the full force of twenty-first-century liberal censure from the audience accordingly. As Manders seems to be the butt of a joke relying on hindsight, the moral complexity of his position (as much as Mrs Alving’s) becomes ignored. 

There were other instances where the script seemed overstated or choices questionable – e.g. the certainty of the consensual nature of the Captain’s relationship with the maid, and the use of explicit statement where inference seemed apt. But these questions were just observations about the production I would have loved to have discussed with the director/adaptor, rather than hindrances to the enjoyability of the play.

All considered, this is a great production, which is cleverly conceived, cohesive in its design and brilliantly executed - well worth watching.

Have you seen Ghosts at the Almeida? What did you make of it? Let me know here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!

No comments:

Post a Comment