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This review is of the show's run at the Almeida Theatre in October 2013.
Ghosts’ is always a daunting proposition to a theatregoer. With its themes of inherited sin, terminal illness, unwitting incest and the impossibility of redemption, it portends a depressing night out. Yet Richard Eyre’s stunning production is both humorous and deeply affecting, invigorated throughout by the sense of each individual’s passionate struggle for freedom. Despite the play’s devastating conclusion, you feel as if you’re witnessing the cracks in nineteenth-century culture that prepare the way for the more liberal consensus of the twentieth.
We first see the characters through a glass – not darkly but dimly. Tim Hatley’s beautiful set (enhanced by Peter Mumford’s painterly lighting) creates the family house as a series of semi-reflective walls. At some points we can see through to the Nordic firs and the sky outside. At others it feels as if the walls are closing in.
The sense of the fight to be liberated from the past starts with Charlene McKenna’s indignant spirited maid, Regina, who believes her father is the alcoholic carpenter Engstrand. Yet it’s when Will Keen’s extraordinary Pastor Manders enters that the whole temperature of the production changes. He is both the funniest and the most terrible aspect of the whole evening – the kind of man who would clearly sleep on sandpaper for fun. With his clipped tones, nervous tics and self-flagellating morality, he embodies everything that is wrong with the established church at the same time as demonstrating its power.
As Helene Alving, Lesley Manville is magnificent – demonstrating both the spirit and acute intellect that should have seen her liberated from her philandering husband. When she declares ‘This house was a university of suffering for me’ you can feel the weight of her desperate inheritance.’ And as Oswald, Jack Lowden embodies the dignity and world-weariness of a free spirit who has to realise he was doomed before birth. A triumph – the combination of the intelligent performances and the mesmerising aesthetic makes this the most lucid and affecting version of the play I have ever seen.
By Rachel Halliburton