This article was edited by the free weekly paper Greenwich Time and published on 14th May 2013. See the edited piece below, as well as the original article.
With their latest production of Ibsen’s Ghosts at Greenwich Theatre, Sell a Door Theatre Company invite us to explore how nature’s wilderness and open horizons can maim the human relationships of those that live in their very midst.
The return home of Oswald after ten years abroad in Rome and Paris is causing quite a stir. His mother, Helen Alving, is equally happy and worried about seeing him, as his wild and unexpected attitude and worrying health are bringing back ghosts of her late adulterous husband. Pastor Manders, blinded by “law and order” and obsessed with his idea of family duties, condemns any kind of impious behaviour. Together, they are building an orphanage, perhaps a shelter for those who are lucky enough not face their parents’ ghosts. As it goes up in flames, however, we learn that no act of kindness is ever protected from the cruelty of nature.
The set, which presents the view over the hills from the Alving residence on a painted background, highlights the influence that the weather has on the characters’ lives. While they are used to strong wind and rain, they do crave for that tiny bit of light to show itself over the hill. Unfortunately, once a glimmer does appear, it is either due to the fire, or arrives too late for Oswald to enjoy it in his final moments.
The production’s strong cast succeeds in conveying the disquiet at having to face boredom and darkness every day. Robert Gill is excellent as Pastor Manders, Liam Smith is a reassuring representation of hope as Engstrand, and Tamaryn Payne is lovely to watch as the ambitious maid Regina, clearly too intelligent and curious to stay in this lost house for longer than necessary.
Deborah Blake, who plays Helen Alving with what first seems to be too little anger, soon shows what she is hiding behind her mask of beauty and elegance. The years have made her “worm-eaten” (in Ibsen’s words) and afraid of not receiving her son’s true love. Only she understands the weight that ghosts can have, and this is precisely delivered each time she utters that dreaded word.
It is perhaps a shame that the eyes of Jason Langley (Oswald) were not made more visible to the public – was this due to his make up? One hoped he would seek refuge in the ears and eyes of the audience.
What can be done when faced with a gloomy text from 1881? Unfortunately Anna Fox’s direction did not lend it enough modernity. Perhaps some of the final scenes could have been slightly cut in order to give them more rhythm.
What is more, with spring finally showing her face to us, do we really want to dive into the wintry atmosphere of Ghosts?