Adam Kotz, Jack Lowden and Lesley Manville. Photo: Alastair Muir
Reviewed by James Karas
Henrik Ibsen was one of the greatest and most revolutionary playwrights of the 19th century but he is now treated more like Miss Havisham’s house in Great Expectations, full of cobwebs and dust, a relic from the past that has seen better days.
Richard Eyre does not share that view and he prepared and directed a version of Ghosts for the Almeida Theatre last year. That production has now transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in London and it makes Ghosts as fresh and dramatic as it must have appeared to the shocked audiences of the nineteenth century. True we are not likely to be as traumatized as they were or pretended to be but the basic revolutionary ideas about hypocrisy, intolerance and bigotry are as forceful today as then.
Lesley Manville gives an outstanding and defining performance as Helene Alving, an attractive, intelligent, rational, wronged and sexually repressed woman. She is the wife of the late Captain Alving and a woman who was born in the wrong century. Her whole life is a fraud that she commits against herself in an attempt to comply with the rules of her close-minded, oppressive and repressive society.
Her husband was a pillar of the community in appearance but a drunken philanderer who impregnated their servant, in reality. She went to Manders (Adam Kotz) then a divinity student and later a pastor, for advice and fell in love with him. He rejected her and told her to return to her husband and put up with him.
Manders has come to the Alving home in order to bless an orphanage built in honour of Captain Alving. Helene approaches him and puts his hand on her breast. The emotionally dead pastor rejects her again.
Adam Kotz plays Manders as a fire-and-brimstone man of the cloth who is close-minded hypocritical and the worst that any society can offer. This pastor thinks that an orphanage needs no insurance because it is under the special watchful eye of God. Insuring it may cause tongues to wag. A frightful and disgusting character is brought to life by Kotz.
The other victim of Helene’s acquiescence to the repressive society and her husband’s gross sexual misconduct is her son Oswald (Jack Lowden) who is born with congenital syphilis. The servant Regina (Charlene McKenna) is in fact his half-sister. The Honorable Captain Alving impregnated another servant, paid her off and passed her to Jacob (Brian McCardie) who accepted the money and the fiction that he was the father of Regina.
Lowden gives an outstanding performance as the young artist who was sent away as a boy to escape the situation at home and then returns in the final stages of his illness. The part requires immense emotional depth and Lowden never falters.
McCardie limps his way around the stage as he displays his contempt for everyone and uses them for his benefit. He is so disgusting that he wants his “daughter” to work in his philanthropic retreat for sailors, a poorly disguised brothel.
Eyre gives a taut, dramatic and riveting production of the play that will leave you emotionally drained.
This Ibsen has no cobwebs or dust and if Miss Havisham had seen it she would have left her house and lived a happy life, glad that she had escaped Helene Alving’s fate.__________
Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen in a version by Richard Eyre opened on December 17 and continues at Trafalgar Studio 1, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY