Ghosts – Regional Theatre Review

When first published ‘Ghosts’ by Henrik Ibsen was described as "An open drain, a loathsome sore un-bandaged, a dirty act done publically... Crapulous stuff." Like many of Ibsen’s now popular plays it provides a scathing look at Victorian morality, whilst also delving into subject matter as challenging as religion, venereal disease, incest and euthanasia to name a few. The play perhaps has lost some of its bite over the years, but this translation from Richard Eyre gives a welcome fresh take on the text. And with the talented Ian Spiby on directing duty here, The Play’s The Thing once again manage to produce a production that finds the light and shade in the material.

The story follows Helene Alving (Caroline Mann), a middle aged woman haunted by the ghosts of her philandering, yet outwardly respectable husband. Determined to rid herself of his memory, she intends to tell her son Oswald (Richard Conrad) the truth about his cruel father. That is until Oswald reveals he has already inherited the terrible outcome of his father’s wayward life. “The sins of the father are visited on their children” after all. Mann gives us a solid and measured Helene, until the dam finally bursts in Act Three revealing a force of raw emotion that is impressive to watch. Conrad provides a layered Oswald, an exciting mess of the modernist, the libertine and the nihilist and it’s fun to watch the gears tick here. His descent into illness is carefully considered and realised.

Rounding out the cast is the talented Charlie Buckland as Pastor Manders, who gives an incredibly watchable performance as the pious pontificator, Katy Withers as Regina Engstrand, who slips easily from coquettish flirt to incensed fury, and Colin Jeffrey as Jacob Engstrand, who gives a highly amusing performance. A delightfully slimy and manipulative Engstrand, Jeffrey also hints at something far more violent and dangerous in his character too. It’s clear the cast are having lots of fun under the drama here and as such it brings a pacey energy to the piece. Spiby has worked hard to keep the action fluid, despite the majority of the plot taking place in one room. Furthermore, the idea of Helene being trapped and suffocated in this house of terrible memories comes through nicely.

As always, the set and costume from designer Kevin Jenkins are simply astonishing. The detail is something else, from Engstrand’s weathered leather coat, to the rusting and water stained architecture of the Alving house, to the plump velvet cushions Oswald hugs to his chest. The care and attention to it all is just wonderful, and Jenkins provides an appropriate playground for the festering sores of the story to open on. The very house itself seems to be suffering under the weight of Captain Alving’s sins, rotting away to nothing. Wonderful work from talented lighting designer James Tearle too. In particular his creation of a mournful, misty morning outdoors in Act One is incredibly effective and the flickering, dangerous fire which closes Act Two provides an exciting contrast to the prior dreariness.

Another top notch piece from The Play’s The Thing, who continue to maintain a high set of standards for their productions. Definitely one to catch whilst you can.

Stantonbury Campus Theatre
18th May – 20th May, 2017

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Thursday 19th May, 2017

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