Review: Ghosts

The English Touring Theatre is preparing themselves for an explosive year in 2014, and to celebrate their 21st birthday, they’re hoping to stage 21 productions throughout the year. That doesn’t mean that any of their performances this year have been left by the wayside however. They are currently sweeping the country with Stephen Unwin’s translation of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen – the sad tale of widow, the return of her son, and the family secrets that dredge up the past and threaten all their new-found hopes.

With a cast of just five, it’s important for everyone to hold their own on the stage; whereas larger casts can hide any weakness, such an intense and intimate play is very exposing to actors. However, we were not disappointed by any of the performances, who each brought their own light and colour to what could otherwise be a very dreary text. Kelly Hunter was the broken Mrs. Alving – both vulnerable and headstrong, Hunter provided an appropriate mix of motherly care and desperate woman, at times uncomfortably frantic, others rational and clear. Hunter’s ability to remain ‘on voice’ throughout the piece – fully projecting her voice and pronunciation – is admirable, however didn’t quite match the others on stage. This proved a little distracting at times, but can be neither a criticism nor negative as it is a skill well used.

Florence Hall was a strong, intelligent, and confident Regina. The girl who becomes the maid in Mrs. Alving’s home is both familiar and professional throughout, only to be hit by a startling revelation in the second act. Hall maintained a girlish air about her that ensured the piece didn’t’ fall too deeply into despair. Similarly, Pip Donaghy (Engstrand, Regina’s father) was likeable and funny, testing the line between submissive Christian and mischievous trickster in an endearing manner.

The real villain, in my eyes, is the pious Pastor Manders – flitting between confidant and judge, Patrick Drury made him a most hateable character, and rightly so. To the extent where I found myself getting increasingly angry, Drury was an all too accurate example of the religious aggression at the time.

Mark Quartley played Osvald, the returned son of Mrs. Alving on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death. Bringing with him a dark secret, and a mind in turmoil, Quartley pushed himself to the point of breaking without overdoing it or going too far. He maintained a somewhat manic disposition throughout, but with sincerity that is a credit to his talent.

Ghosts is not an easy play to perform it or to watch – it’s about family secrets, problems brushed under the carpet, and hushed voices. Written in 1881, it is always remarkable to see the insight Ibsen had into the human psyche, and the way he went against the norm in terms of society’s expectations of women and family. With a simply designed set by Simon Higlett, the room was both homely and eerie – a large projected window overlooking mountains enhanced the atmosphere, and I couldn’t help but keep glancing in case some lone figure appeared (though perhaps that’s just my overactive imagination). The ETT has triumphed once again with this piece – be sure to grab it if you can, touring the country until the 7th December.

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