Ibsen still has power to shock

Barbara Frame.
Barbara Frame.
In 1891, public perfomances of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts were prohibited in England, but critics who saw a private production described the play as "revoltingly suggestive and blasphemous", "abominable", "a dirty deed done publicly", and more.

Societal attitudes have since altered, but Ghosts still has the power to shock.

The Globe’s production, directed by Louise Petherbridge, is deeply affecting. The set and lighting, by Ray Fleury, Helen Davies, Sofie Welvaert and Craig Storey, show a comfortable home on a beautiful Norwegian fiord; the action shows the ugliness of respectable family life poisoned by an inescapable past.

"Tighten your seatbelts and prepare for a storm," warns Petherbridge in the programme notes, and a storm, intensified by a new adaptation by Richard Eyre that pares the play down to its essentials, it surely is.

When ideas about "the joy of being alive" clash with the "dead customs and dead morals" of rigid Lutheranism, and events build to a horrifying climax, it becomes very clear  a play doesn’t need to be new to be dangerous.

Terry MacTavish rises to the challenge of playing Mrs Alving, who anchors the play and whose yearning for freedom and honesty have been crushed by religion and respectability. Moralising and faintly ridiculous Pastor Manders, once and possibly still the object of her passion, is played by Emmett Hardie; and her son Oswald, fresh from the liberating air of Paris but bearing terrible news, by Reuben Hilder. Nigel Ensor and Kimberley Buchan take on the roles of carpenter Jacob Engstrand and his putative daughter Regina, both of whom have complicated relationships to the Alving family.  

Every performance is strong and convincing.

This is absorbing, daring and rewarding theatre, and I recommend it.

- Barbara Frame



Globe Theatre,Thursday, May 11

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