Ghosts at the Rose Theatre
Kingston’s Rose Theatre has produced an ambitious production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts as a fitting send-off for artistic director Stephen Unwin. Unwin, who also holds direction and translation credits for this traditional adaptation, has a long affiliation with Ibsen’s work and has produced a solid, if unexceptional, play here.
Like most of Ibsen’s plays, Ghosts is a scathing diatribe against the attitudes and social mores of the 19th century. It is something of a detective piece, with the audience constantly trying to deduce who is playing the hero, anti-hero and antagonist. This being Ibsen, the only real hero is his “fight the power” stance, while all the characters are anti-heroes to various degrees.
Mrs Alving (Kelly Hunter) is a long-time widow who has welcomed her artist son back from Paris to her Norwegian estate. However, all is not well with Osvald Alving (Mark Quartley), and the matriarch of the community is burdened further as she prepares to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of her husband’s death with the opening of a new orphanage. The meddling clergyman Pastor Manders (Patrick Drury) and the yeoman-like Engstrand (Pip Donaghy) add tension as they approach the Alvings with their own agendas. Central to the mystique of the play is the ethereal Regina (Florence Hall), whose yet to be determined provenance holds the key to the mystery within Ghosts.
It is always going to be hard to insert pep into a slow-paced, Nordic, 19th century drama and this production certainly tests the patience of the audience at times. The strange thing about Ibsen is that what made him so modern and ahead of his time when he was writing (such as themes on women’s independence and anti-clerical ideas) can today make his work seem if not archaic, then certainly inapplicable. The more general social and political topics favoured by Ibsen’s contemporaries (Chekov and Gogol) translate much better to the modern stage and so plays such as this are a challenge for smaller companies.
The older actors put in very fine performances, especially Donaghy who is a delight to watch. In contrast, Quartley and Hall leave a lot to be desired with Quartley putting on a pantomime Ben Whishaw impression rather than channeling the tortured reprobate Osvald. Nevertheless this adaptation is a decent, if somewhat affected, production and Ibsen adherents should certainly flock to see it.
Guy de Vito
Ghosts is at the Rose Theatre until 12th October 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the cast of Ghost talking about the production here: