Critics enjoy Richard Eyre's Almeida Ghosts
Richard Eyre's production of Ibsen's classic about a woman struggling with prejudice whilst dealing with her late husband's affairs opened at the Almeida Theatre last week. Starring Lesley Manville and Will Keen, it runs until 23 November
It's all Ghosts a-go-go down Islington way, with a Richard Eyre production of Ibsen's emotional shocker that clatters straight through in 90 minutes and finds unexpected humour all over the place.... I much admire Kelly Hunter's Mrs Alving for the ETT, but Lesley Manville, very different, offers a powerfully projected portrait of a young woman grown old before her time... It's an almost symphonic treatment of the play, with Peter Mumford's lighting and John Leonard's sound ... creating an atmosphere in which everything seems inevitable... Will Keen plays...[Pastor Manders] like a nervous spider, a bundle of tics and caveats, malicious slights and hypocritical cross-fire, his voice a sort of disembodied, husky telling-off.... It's Manville's Mrs Alving we're left pitying the most...
Ibsen's brisk, gloomy masterpiece about the sins of the father being visited upon the son is currently enjoying two simultaneous revivals, at the Almeida Theatre and the Rose Theatre Kingston, Kingston, both staged by directors who are working with their own new versions of the text. As has happened too often in its brief history, the plucky Rose Theatre Kingston comes off decidedly second-best...From the start of its hurtling, interval-free 90 minutes, Eyre's staging is compellingly vibrant, with an assured sense of itself... the fine Lesley Manville starts out exasperated and witty and thus has a scintillatingly long way to fall...Will Keen, wonderful with his pedantic expression and pinched tone... Tim Hatley's striking set, of once elegant mirrors now tarnished...Nonetheless, Kelly Hunter's pale Mrs Alving is moving and eloquent in her quiet anguish.
The most radical feature of Richard Eyre's first-rate revival of Ghosts is its speed... At points I feel Eyre's new version is, verbally and visually, over-emphatic...But otherwise Eyre's production grabs you by the throat and never releases its grip. Lesley Manville's Helene Alving starts as a buoyant, liberated woman... The turning point in her magnificent performance comes when... she seeks to renew her old amorous attachment to Pastor Manders: coldly spurned, Manville becomes the image of desolation. Her climactic scene with Oswald, whose gradual degeneration is precisely charted by Jack Lowden, is also as powerful as I have seen in years... Will Keen persuasively makes Pastor Manders a figure of evangelical fire... But the whole point of this extraordinary production is to show... a world that seems fixed, stable and coherent blown apart by the irredeemable past.
...But Richard Eyre's superb staging, in his own fleet and vivid adaptation, held me in its grip throughout...As Pastor Manders... Will Keen hilariously suggests a man who is convinced of his own rightness.. There are also fine comic touches in the performances of Brian McCardie as the disreputable builder, Engstrand... and Charlene McKenna as Engstrand's daughter...The heart of the play though is the relationship between Lesley Manville as Mrs Alving and Jack Lowden as her ailing, anguished son...The play's closing moments are almost too upsetting to watch...Tim Hatley's design, with translucent walls that make people in the adjoining room actually look like ghosts, and Peter Mumford's...dramatic lighting, with the play ending in a blood-red dawn, both add greatly to the intensity of a production that does full justice to this thrilling, harrowing play.
Richard Eyre's new stripped-down 90-minute version has glories too many to list...As the widowed Mrs Alving, Lesley Manville emits a scorching bitter intelligence...Their confrontations in the first half are electrical... Playing Oswald is Jack Lowden...he rises to an intense, powerful presence as we watch his terrified decline into syphilitic madness. The final scenes with his mother are near-unbearable...However the whole production shines: a poisoned jewel of love, desperation and change reflected in the glassy transparent walls of Tim Hatley's marvellous set. John Leonard's soundscape is overwhelming too, and the brilliant lighting design by Peter Mumford moves from the climactic orphanage fire to an unforgettable lamplit chiaroscuro... In the final moments, when a worse truth has devastated her, the set itself brightens like a flame: at once a personal hell and a new century's dawn