After five years at the Rose, artistic director Stephen Unwin bows out with his own adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’, which aims for accessibility above all else. It’s a crisp and engaging two hours with none of the usual period starchiness, but Unwin gives up a lot for the sake of clarity: atmosphere, ambiguity and, just occasionally, any faith in the audience’s intelligence.
In fairness, Ibsen’s plotting is wispier than it is elsewhere. Mrs Alving (Kelly Hunter) and her nearest and dearest often talk in a familiar shorthand that leaves uncomfortable truths unspoken. In Unwin’s version the truth about her late husband doesn’t so much seep out, as spring from the closet shouting ‘Surprise! Daddy couldn’t keep his pants on.’
Twice Patrick Drury’s self-serving Pastor Manders faces front and conveniently remembers the real identity of Mrs Alving’s serving-girl Regina. He boggles at young Oswald’s eyeing her up. The resultant hint of Jeremy Kyle – ‘My syphilitic son almost married his half-sister’ – just edges Ibsen’s play towards melodrama, as does the insistence with which Unwin ensures we understand that the orphanage built in Alving’s honour isn’t insured.
Still, Kelly Hunter and Mark Quartley motor proceedings as Mrs Alving and her artist son. Cleverly cast with a close resemblance, Hunter’s Mrs Alving is a natural free-spirit, who has clipped her own wings, while the impressive Quartley deftly sidesteps the pitfalls of self-pity as Oswald.
Simon Higlett’s overcast set, based on Edvard Munch’s sketches for a 1906 production, is handsome and harsh, though the expressionist landscape in the back wall – like a wormhole to Mordor – is a touch too much.
By Matt Trueman