JOYCE MCMILLAN on GHOSTS at the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, for The Scotsman 21.6.11
3 stars ***
IT’S A GLOOMY PLAY for a Midsummer’s Night. For all its gathering misery, though, there’s a strange, vibrant power about Ibsen’s radical 1881 study of a mother and son destroyed by the sexual hypocrisy and lies that were rife in “respectable” 19th century society; something about it that grips the attention of audiences, almost against their will.
The play famously tells the story of middle-aged Mrs. Alving, a wealthy widow living in a provincial and rain-soaked Norwegian town, who is about to open an orphanage in memory of her late husband, some ten years after his death. Her artist son Oswald, in his early Twenties, returns home for the ceremony; but the night before the opening, the sexual lies and secrets that made a misery of Mrs. Alving’s marriage, and are now about to destroy the health of her fragile son, begin to surface, unleashing havoc.
This touring production by London Classic Theatre – seen in Kirkcaldy and Aberdeen on Friday and Saturday, and heading for Musselburgh this weekend – features Frank McGuinness’s new 2010 version of the text, with a north-west Irish inflection that brings out both the dark humour and the raw emotion of the text; in Kirkcaldy, the audience responded to the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the minister, Pastor Manders, with an immediacy that’s unusual, when standard English translations are used. Michael Cabot’s production is often very static, with little or no physical movement. Through sheer respect for the text, though, Cabot’s hard-working company eventually build an impressive dramatic momentum, with Pauline Whitaker’s stately, slow-burning Mrs. Alving leading the cast to that heartbreaking moment when she and her son are left entirely alone, to suffer the consequences of an evil which their society can only handle by shunning the victims, and pretending that the crime never existed.