Review: Ghosts

“Unwin’s fresh interpretation still retains a feel of the nineteenth century” – reviews

Photo credit: York Theatre Royal

Photo credit: York Theatre Royal

Director – Stephen Unwin
Playwright – Stephen Unwin’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s play
Venue – York Theatre Royal
Rating – ★★★★☆

Although written in the nineteenth century, the issues Ghosts brings up are still poignant and shocking today. Osvaldo Alving (Mark Quartley) returns home from Paris after years abroad. His mother Helen (Kelly Hunter) prepares to open an orphanage in memory of her late husband with help from Pastor Manders (Patrick Drury). The Alvings’ maid Regina (Florence Hall) rejects her father’s offer to work at his sailor’s establishment, feeling it beneath her.

Unwin’s fresh interpretation, performed by the English Touring Theatre, still retains a feel of the nineteenth century in the dialogue. Ibsen’s exploration of incest, venereal disease and euthanasia are set against knowing the truth. The five characters are all affected by the actions of Court Chamberlain Alving – the “ghost” that still haunts them long after his selfish immorality. Importance is placed on the truth by Helen, but after she uncovers this, they are all worse off and their previously happy (or at least happier) circumstances unravel.

Quartley was particularly impressive in the second act as was Hunter’s dynamic with Quartley – Hunter was engaging as a desperate, caring and conflicted mother. Hunter was also strong in the first half as the character seemed more in control and when she spoke of her debauched husband. The lower class characters Regina and her father (Pip Donaghy) were differentiated through their Scottish accents. Hall demonstrated an excellent shift in character during the play from an affectionate maid to a furious woman who felt betrayed. Additionally, Drury’s Pastor offered some unexpected comedic moments through his outdated comments.

Simon Higlett’s set design was based on Edvard Munch’s (who created The Scream) 1906 paintings of a contemporary production of Ghosts set design. The whole play was set in one unchanging front room, which seemed spacious yet during more intense moments gave a sense of claustrophobia. The lighting was particularly well done: an effect of constant rain was achieved using a subtly moving light. The use of real candles and a lamp also added a sense of secrecy when, for example, Helen spoke of her husband to the Pastor. The background’s lighting effects were also impressive when creating dawn or the appearance of a fire.

Additionally, there was a constantly ticking grandfather clock which created tension during moments of silence. Visually, was a muted colour palette leaning towards murkier shades of brown, red, black and grey which worked with the darkness of the background. However the pacing of the production did seem mismatched. The second half was much swifter than the first causing imbalance. Aside from this Unwin’s Ghosts was a well-acted and designed interpretation of Ibsen’s play.

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