The English Touring Theatre must be riding on the crest of a wave at the moment. Having received rave reviews for their adaptation of The Caretaker and a West End transfer for The York Realist, their latest, Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts looks like a dead cert on paper. Thankfully, I can report that this touring version of ground-breaking classic delivers on many levels.
The story centres around the notion that the sins of the father are visited on the son of the family, and that ghosts of the dead have a powerful hold on the living. Mrs Alving (elegantly played by Diana Quick) is determined to think for herself and seek inner happiness following an unhappy marriage. She made the mistake of returning to her husband based on advice from the church. Following a visit from her sick son Osvald (Daniel Evans), she decides to empty the closet, metaphorically speaking. The truth which emerges in a confessional talk to local Pastor Manders (William Chubb) relieves Mrs Alving of a heart-breaking burden but looks likely to rock the foundations of all those around her.
Ibsen's beautiful play may look dated at first glance, but it's timeless in its approach and, as the narrative evolves, you find yourself immersed in the latter part of the 19th century with all of its trappings and need for change. The play questions religion and its double standards, the facade that marriage can bring, and a mother's love for her son knowing no bounds.
The first act does drag, and thus feels slightly uninvolving at the start. But once the Act Two gets underway, Steven Unwin's solid direction ensures that the play enters a new phase.
As for the performers, you feel Mrs Alving's pain due to a majestic turn from Diana Quick who gets right under the skin of a very complex character, while William Chubb brings a sense of humour and shades of regret to his role as the repressed and stubborn Pastor. Excellent support is provided too by Daniel Evans and Jody Watson as young lovers Osvald and Regina, whose newfound romance creates the pivotal element of the play which drives an emotional wedge through the middle of the troubled mother/son relationship.
If you want to see a passionate play which revisits classic territory without the stuffiness and elite knowing touches that this genre sometimes relies upon, then Ghosts is for you.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry in Salford)