We all have ghosts in our lives.
In Independent Theatre‘s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, theatre becomes a thing that lives again.
In three potent acts, performed without interval, the audience is drawn into the web of interconnecting actions that tie the five characters together. Some theatre meanders across a vista of broadly brushed themes but in Ghosts our players feverishly behold, and then struggle to solve, a Rubik’s cube of motivations, acts, and consequences.
The story centres on widow, Helen Alving (Lyn Wilson) who is about to memorialise an orphanage in her late husband’s name, despite the fact that she is still embittered by his chronic infidelity and her rebuttal, many years ago, by the true target of her affections, Pastor Manders (Chris Duncan). Mrs Alving has recently welcomed home her long lost son, Oswald Alving (Eddie Sims), whom she had sent away to shield him from his father’s negative influence, epitomised by the memory that she had caught her husband sleeping with a maid. The other characters in this story are the current maid, Regina Engstrand (Sophie Livingston-Pearce), and her “father”, Jakob Engstrand (David Roach), who has been carrying out carpentry duties for Mrs Alving.
Tension grows from the opening scenes as Regina’s hopes of “marrying up” in the world fly in the face of her father’s wish that she come and live with him. More tension grows as Pastor Manders struggles to play the role of neutral, caring, business advisor to Helen, while enduring shock at her progressive ideas and frustration as they traverse old wounds relating to their unrequited “romantic potential”. These issues simmer and proceed to boiling point throughout the play, while having further themes stirred into the pot. Meanwhile, the delicate house of ghosts is given a major shock when Oswald unexpectedly acts like a mirror image of his late father, causing Helen’s great despair and setting the story spiralling to its dramatic climax.
This is yet another solid ensemble performance from the Independent Theatre team, with particularly noteworthy work by Lyn Wilson and Chris Duncan. Their scenes build in intensity throughout, as they majestically espouse the traits of their characters, the free thinker and the religiously constrained, respectively. At one point, Helen exclaims, what about truth, only to have the pastor retort, what about ideals? The fervour is perfectly played. Likewise, it was noteable that stage business is carried out with great aplomb by all players, even if there’s a little set-threatening gusto during one of Regina’s door-slamming exits.
For theatre goers, this production of Ghosts is hearty fare, indeed. In it’s day it copped flak for including subjects ranging from religion and incest, to illegitimacy and assisted-suicide. Luckily, for today’s audiences, Ghosts provides an intellectual sanctuary where we are able to reflect on these topics in a thoughtful way through theatrical form, far removed from the superficial trolling one endures when raising sensitive topics in social media.