Sins of the fathers...
'GHOSTS', at The Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, from Friday, April 12 to Saturday, April 27
To say that Ibsen's 'Ghosts' caused a scandal when it was first staged is an understatement. Dealing as it does with infidelity, syphilis, religious bigotry and hypocrisy, among other things, it was banned from public performance for many years in several countries. However, we have, we'd like to think, moved on since 1881, and in this stimulating production, directed by Alasdair Ramsay, some of the lines that probably once elicited groans of disapproval and disgust actually had the audience laughing.
Elroy Ashmore's stunning and beautiful set presents a tranquil, welcoming environment, but it could equally well appear as bleak as the tensions and anguish of
the characters. Mrs Alving is overjoyed that her son Osvald has come home, but unprepared for the emergence of the ghosts that his arrival will provoke.
One of Ibsen's pet themes was the position of women, wives particularly, and the way their individuality and creativity is often crushed under the duty of their role. Mrs Alving is no exception. Kate Dove plays her as a strong woman, but one whose
life has nevertheless been a bitter struggle, only made bearable by her beloved son.
Edward Clarke is superb as Osvald, apparently happy to be home, but then increasingly nervous and distracted. His gradual disintegration, as he reveals the terrible legacy of his father's adultery, is extremely powerful and very moving. The only joy which remains possible in his unhappy life resides in Regina, Mrs Alving's maid, played with perky self-confidence by Hannah Cresswell, but as Pastor Manders, played by Granville Saxton, says: "Do we have a
right to joy?"
Manders bears the bulk of Ibsen's scorn, full of hypocrisy and devoid of sympathy, and mainly concerned with protecting his position.
I couldn't see how Mrs Alving would have been attracted to this Manders in the past. Peter Glancy's obsequious Engstrand preys on Manders, manipulating him for his own ends.
Setting the play in the 1950s works well, and Pam Gems' version makes the script both accessible and relevant to our own times. Despite a couple of hiccups in the performance, this production is highly recommended.