Review: Ghosts at The New Vic, Newcastle under Lyme

This review was originally written for the Reviews Hub

Writer: Henrik Ibsen

Adaptor: Richard Eyre

Director: Abbey Wright

Adultery, religious rebellion and a secret love child: you can see why this is arguably Isben’s most controversial play. Years after Captain Alving died, his son Oswald returns home to see his mother in their family home just a day before a new orphanage is opened in his father’s memory. However, not is all what it seems. As the evening unfolds, secrets of the families past start to come back and haunt them.

This new adaptation received critical acclaim last year in London and it can be understood why. Richard Eyre seems to strip back the conversation between characters and reimagines it to become modern and natural discussions between people, rather than the wordy translations some other interpretations are recognised as. He also takes some of the historic taboo subjects such as questioning religion and views on relationships and makes them relevant to a modern audience. The audience respond extremely well to these changes with gasps and awkward laughs being heard throughout the auditorium, especially at some of the sexist comments made by the Pastor. Eyre also is able to bring the almost British tradition of breaking the tension with a hint of laughter to his script while not detracting the attention from the unfolding drama.

Mark Donald shows an excellent portrayal of Oswald as he is able to seamlessly intertwine between an intellectually minded and creative young man, and a man who is tormented by a secret he is coming to terms with himself while also trying to pluck up the confidence to tell his mother. Whereas the character of Helene Alving played by Catherine Cusack shows an emotional yet mentally strong mother – a quality which she shows best when she confronts Pastor Manders about her families past. The bond between Donald and Cusack grips the audience until the gut-wrenching conclusion that appears to bring some onlookers to tears.

The set of this production is quite interesting. Instead of bringing the audience right up close to the action, set designer Signe Beckmann decides to set the home of the Alvings’ on a raised circular platform in the middle of the stage, with a sort of moat of dirt around it. While this does seem to bring emphasis to the audience watching the family and the family’s ability to hide their secrets from the watching eye, it does at the same time also seem to detract the ability to get as intimate as possible with the piece. The use of lighting created by Daniella Beattie in the most climatic moments both was extremely clever and adds an extra layer to these scenes.

This play is a fantastic all-rounder. The well-researched and metaphorical aspect of the set works well with the actors’ portrayal of the charters, in this fresh adaptation of Ibsen’s Classic. The new language and structure of this performance allows the audience to engage, watch over and become involved in the secret ridden life of the Alving family.

Performing such an intimate script in the round can be difficult as every member of the audience has to be able to see and respond to the most dramatic moments of this famous piece. But the staging under the direction of Abbey Wright works well and allows all members of the audience, no matter where they are seated to have a personalised view. All in all, Ghosts keeps you riding an emotional journey of unravelling secrets and social confrontations until the dramatic climax that will possibly leave you reaching for your tissues.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Runs until 4th October 2015

The original review can be found here:

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