Review: Ghosts @ Rose Theatre, Kingston


By Molly Kersey

Rose Theatre and English Touring Theatre have come together to create a new translation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic masterpiece Ghosts, translated and directed by Stephen Unwin.

Ibsen himself is said to have described the play as ‘a family story as sad and grey as this rainy day’, and indeed the story does delve into the darker issues of the day.

As well as facing head on the immorality and hypocrisy of the upper class and double standards for men and women, the play also presents the audience with a conflict between old traditionalism and more modern bohemian lifestyles, duty and joy.

Designed by Simon Higlett, the production draws inspiration from the designs of Edvard Munch, famous for The Scream. The stunning set holds the appearance of a painting come alive, becoming atmospheric as soon as the audience take their seats.

The play centres around the Alving family and their history. When the ‘prodigal son’ Osvald returns to his dead father’s home from Paris, his enthusiasm for modern ideals and zest for the joy of life force his mother to realise the mistakes that she has made in her own past which have led to a great deal of unhappiness.

When Mrs Alving confronts the ghosts of the past, a number of dark family secrets soon come to light. The revelations expose corruption within the family and show the devastating effect that a duty bound existence can have.

As the story unfolds, Mrs Alving is forced to endure not only the ghost of her late husband’s memory but the ghosts of ‘old beliefs and old ideas’ that have led to the destruction of that which she holds most dear, her son. Kelly Hunter’s powerful performance and Mark Quartley’s compelling portrayal of a young man doomed to a inherited destiny combine, with the final scene that the mother and son share becoming heart wrenchingly tragic.

The stellar cast also includes Patrick Drury as Pastor Manders, Pip Donaghy playing Engstrand and Florence Hall playingRegina. The narrow minded and strict views of Pastor Manders serve to represent traditional societal views of the time, and Engstrand manages to fool him all too easily. Together the two characters offer occasional light hearted moments of comedy in an intensely emotional play, with Pastor Mander’s views that ‘it is not a wife’s role to judge her husband’ and Engstrand’s excuses for his drunken lifestyle raising laughs from modern day audiences.

When it was first released in 1881, the play shocked audiences and received damning critical reactions. Dealing with issues such as incest, euthanasia, venereal disease and illegitimacy, it is certainly not to be taken lightly. Despite not being surrounded by such a monumental amount of controversy in the modern day, the play still offers a fascinating portrayal of an age of double standards long gone by in a powerful and emotive way which leaves audiences captivated from beginning to end.

Stephen Unwin holds a long standing connection with the work of Ibsen. This is the seventh Ibsen work he has dedicated himself to as director, and the play serves as Mr Unwin’s farewell before he steps down from his position as Artistic Director at theRoseTheatre.

For tickets call 08444 821 556.

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