This short, sharp production of Ibsen’s late masterpiece Ghosts feels like gazing into a poisoned well. There are clear reflections on the dark pellucid water but only when stones are dropped in are the dizzying depths of despair truly revealed. And so many stones are dropped – revelation after revelation – which expose the hypocrisy and depravity of the aristocratic Alving family and, it seems, everyone connected to it.
The plot is simple enough: the heir apparent Oswald returns home to his family mansion after the death of his ‘noble’ father, the stage is thus set for the unravelling of secrets held back while the Captain was still alive. What’s really surprising about Richard Eyre’s production is just how funny that unravelling is; a story dripping with irony is ruthlessly used as a vehicle for laughs, the melodrama at times seeming to possess the rhythms of a screwball comedy.
All five actors are flawless – there is not a single false note. Lesley Manville as Oswald’s mother Helene is like a coiled sigh unfurling into an animal scream. Will Keen as Pastor Manders beautifully captures the essence of a weak man strangled by his dedication to an unrealistic moral code. Jack Lowden as Oswald has the tragic air of Vincent Van Gogh, while Charlene McKenna and Brian McCardie offer pure, painfully raw emotion.
The exquisite production design also deserves a mention. Tim Hatley has created a set that feels like a mouldering silverpoint sketch with blue outlines of wood panels painted on large panes of glass. This clever trick creates the effect of an x-ray where people passing through the creaking manor house become momentarily one of the ghosts of the title. A truly haunting production.
Ghosts is on at the Almeida Theatre until 23 November 2013.
Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.