Review: Ghosts

Alex Sorgo 21 February 2018

CN: AIDS, Homophobia, Incest, Euthanasia

This adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Gengangere, written and directed by Josh Cleary promised to be captivating and thought-provoking experience for Ibsen and general-theatre lovers alike.

This adaptation did not stray from dealing into the serious themes of Ibsen’s play. It moves away from 1880’s Norway to 19990’s Kensington. The play centres around Helen Alving (Kim Alexander), whose only son Oswald (Zach Myers) has returned at last from living in Paris as an artist after many years away. Helen is in the process of opening a new school in the memory of her late husband, Captain Alving. During a visit from Reverend Manders (Annabel Bolton), an old friend who is due to dedicate the school, the day before the grand opening, secrets reveal themselves all around, and Helen has to face the possibility that her life is going to collapse around her, as the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her.

The play was undoubtedly modernised, and the character of Regina, became that of Rex (Elliot Francas-Mellor), exploring the frustrated love between two unknowing half-brothers as same-sex desire. The LGBT issues of the changed temporal setting too deal with the AIDS crisis at the time, as Oswald reveals (very difficultly and jarringly) that he has returned on account of his illness and is slowly deteriorating.

The play promised to live up to the highly controversial original, and yet fell at its static old-fashioned dialogue. The relationships portrayed, particularly those of Helen and Oswald, and the Reverend and Jacob Engstrand (a carpenter and father to Rex played by Harry Orwell) were not played convincingly enough to receive the emotive response they should have had. The notion of the “ghosts” themselves that haunted Helen, were made flippantly far too obvious, and yet undermined.

The play overall offered much promise, but the dialogue did not seem to work in the new updated and more modern setting, and the weight and gravity of the themes did not carry well through the acting (although the performances of Alexander and Bolton individually did well to portray such complicated and difficult characters). 

However, the final scene was undoubtedly powerful, if perhaps overdone, but it worked albeit slightly rushed, which can be put down to condensing the play to an hour and a half and first night jitters.

A difficult play to tackle, the cast and crew should be commended for their exploration of the difficult themes the play expresses.

*At the end of the performance, the cast are collecting for collecting at the end of each show for the Terrence Higgins Trust. This charity is incredibly worthwhile and does fantastic work for HIV/AIDS prevention and care. To find out more visit their website.*

Ghosts is on from the 20 to the 24th February, 7.15pm at the Pembroke New Cellars.