I have no idea why I have never before seen Ghosts; I’ve seen at least one production of most of Ibsen’s other plays. Coming to this tragedy for the very first time means that I’m unable to compare it to other versions, but the bonus is that it had the power to shock me as the plot unravelled and the tale reached its inevitable conclusion.
Ghosts is a tragic drama that contrasts oppositions: freedom and repression; female liberation and patriarchal control; love and lust and debauchery and celibacy, as well as debating the themes of religion, parental care, duty, incest and euthanasia.
Ten years after Captain Alving’s death his son Oswald finally returns to the family home. His appearance forces his mother Helene to recall her miserable marriage and the legacy that has been passed down from her husband. Through the transparent walls separating the sitting room from the dining room we cannot fail to miss the portrait of the late Captain as he stares out obliquely at the present. The hours pass as darkness and night fall, but the dawn sunrise floods the house with light once more and the final layers of the family consequences are unravelled.
This is a gripping and riveting staging; form, function and drama complement each other flawlessly. Lesley Manville is as desperate for love and affection, both from her son and from Will Keen’s Pastor Manders, as the clergyman is to hang on to his piety and false beliefs. When he learns the truth about the Alving marriage, and after the tragedy at the uninsured orphanage, which is supposedly protected by divine intervention, it brings him to an awareness that there are no longer any certainties.
Complementing these performances is Jack Lowden’s Oswald, a man who appears to have inherited something of his father, but whose bequest is worse than could ever be imagined, and which forces Helene to make a choice that no mother would ever wish to contemplate.
Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage may be playing at another London venue, but Ibsen’s marital memories will return to haunt you Smothering us as if we were buried alive in sand.