Theatre Review: Ghosts

Provoking, emotionally draining and beautifully crafted

Presented by: Independent Theatre
Reviewed: 16 June 2023

The programme notes are copious and informative. If you don’t know anything of Ibsen’s work they are an invaluable resource; if you are familiar with his work they serve to remind you of how brave and forward thinking his works are. It’s surely why they have endured from the 1850’s to the present day and how some of them were so shocking in their subject matter that Ibsen was reviled by his contemporaries for airing material some considered to be too private to speak about in public. He has been compared to many of the famous European and British playwrights for his genius and courage.

Norway is a place of polar opposites, cold bare winters and delightfully refreshing late spring and early autumn weather and the summers can be unbearably hot, I’ve lived there. Ghosts is set in a coastal town in Norway and from the outset of the play we are immersed in the cold wet climate that sets the temperature for this challenging piece of theatre. The storyline is in your face, dealing with broken relationships, undying love, incest, and syphilis. This is the foundation for a challenging night in the theatre. Richard Eyre has distilled 90 minutes of magic that has been adapted from the original two act play into a 90 minute non-stop ride through the hell that is visited on a family by its onerous past and the consequences of the secrets kept by everyone in the piece. It’s not a night out for the faint hearted.

Independent Theatre has been entertaining us since 1984 and this is another in a long line of plays Adelaide wouldn’t get to see if it wasn’t for its artistic director Rob Croser. We have come to expect high quality productions from Croser and this is no exception. The intimate setting of The Chapel theatre at Star Theatres means you are sitting in the elegant and stylish drawing room of Helene Alving’s house. Its dove grey walls are the perfect tone of grey, the furniture elegant and spare. The bank of windows across the back of the set light beautifully and at the opening give us tones of slate grey to suggest a windy rainy day. The space is so close we feel we are sitting in the action.

From the opening moments we are so involved in the action we are part of it and as Regina Engstrand (Sophie Livingstone-Pearce) goes about her chores we are invited into the space to become part of the experience. Jacob Engstrand (David Roach) is the first nerve that is exposed in this tangle of relationships that gradually unfold. He is crafty and cold and gives us just the right amount of insecurity to keep us on edge. Livingston-Pearce gives us a hint of what is to come in their first exchange and whets our curiosity. Pastor Manders (Chris Duncan) is all business to begin with as he deals with Helene Alving’s (Lyn Wilson) business concerns before he descends into a whirlpool of his own making. Helene is brusque, business like and dismissive with just a hint of regret sitting in their first exchange. As the play progresses and their relationship is revealed we are in for some very intense exchanges and Wilson can really let rip when she needs to. The final piece of the puzzle is Oswald Alving (Eddie Sims) who is referred to, deferred to and built up to his first entrance and we are immediately drawn in to the world of this would-be artist who has come home for the first time for years and is deferred to by his doting Mother as he is tired and emotional after his journey. But we get the sense there is something brewing in this not quite stable young man’s world.

This play is frightening, illuminating, challenging and needs an emotional intelligence to drive the work from the moment the lights go up. Opening night lacked a strong pace and energy for the first 15 minutes but once Wilson and Sims hit the stage the play and the pace lit up. It is really their play and they grasped the work, delivered the goods and took us on a roller coaster of a journey. Their final scene was a moment of thrilling theatre, unanticipated, dark and frightening. It is a play that is thought provoking, emotionally draining and beautifully crafted. Eyer’s adaptation has concentrated Ibsen’s work into 90 minutes on the road to hell. Well worth a watch.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Photo credit: supplied

Venue: Star Theatres, Theatre 2 -145 Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Hilton
Season: Friday 16th June – Sat 1st July
Duration: 90minutes no interval
Content: Mature content/Adult themes
Tickets: From $40.00

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