Filming of Ghosts at the Trafalgar Studios
Richard Eyre’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts is the third play that Digital Theatre have filmed for their West End Theatre Series, which aims to “further the reach of theatre”. This is a good, honest goal, and so far over 115,000 hours of content has been watched, equivalent to a West End play running every night for 184 years. With over 535 institutions in 36 different countries having bought into this enterprise, the significance of Digital Theatre’s project is evident, but sadly it’s premise of capturing “live performance authentically onscreen” just does not work in terms of theatrical absorption.
Typical of Ibsen, Ghosts is cloyingly domestic and flatly tragic. As the tenth anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Helen Alving attempts to wash her hands of the man’s traumatising debauchery whilst protecting his revered legacy and shielding her pain from all, including her son. But the scars are too deeply ingrained and the truth pushes its way out eventually. The disease of love and desire is dealt with gravely and cautiously, and Eyre translates the slow, overwhelming progression of doom with a masterly touch. As the bold but suffering Helen, Lesley Manville is not only nearly always onstage but is crying almost continuously throughout, never once hitting an off note or letting slack her fraught face. This attention is the kind of benefit gained from the varying angles and focus of the cameras, but emotive reactions, such as the terror and the magnitude of Jack Lowden’s agitated Oswald Alving, is lost by fragmentation of the scene and being denied the entire picture.
Filming the play essentially deconstructs Eyre’s work, exposing the mechanics by isolating the elements. Focusing solely on Manville’s face (however remarkable it is to watch) eradicates the context in which it thrives as a theatrical device. We don’t get to see the props, costumes, scenery, or, most importantly, the other faces from which Manville’s feeds and responds to. Theatre differs from film in this sense: it is constructed as a complete and whole entity where everything in it contributes to the final effect. The set is made to fit the stage and the acting is made to fit the set, where it’s intricacies and significance can only be fully appreciated when viewed as a response to the spacial and physical environment. Perspective is vital to a complete theatrical experience, and filming denies the wholesome absorption of being in the audience.
Ghosts is being screened in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on 26th June 2014 for one night only. For further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Ghosts here: