JOYCE MCMILLAN on GHOSTS at Eastwood Park Theatre, for The Scotsman 3.10.13.
3 stars ***
RADICALISM IN THEATRE takes many forms; but when it comes to sheer rage against a corrupt order of things, and a dauntless willingness to make audiences face up to the human agony caused by that corruption, Henrik Ibsen still has few peers among playwrights. His great drama Ghosts, first published – and widely banned – in the early 1880’s, is a searing exposé in three acts of the misery caused by one wealthy man’s compulsive sexual promiscuity, by 19th century society’s determination to collude with and conceal his crimes, and by his distraught wife’s ill-fated decision to go along with that concealment, even after his death. The consequences for Helen Alving are horrific, as she gradually faces the truth that her adored only son is dying of the congenital syphilis passed on by his father; and her final howl of horror, as she holds her dying son while society’s hypocrisy and judgment still rages around her, is one of the bleakest sounds in all drama.
The problem for many companies, though, is that they can’t resist the temptation to veil Ibsen’s radicalism in all the conventional trappings of polite costume drama, from gorgeous period clothes to strangely stilted texts. Anna Fox’s small-scale touring production for Sell A Door Theatre – due to arrive at the Brunton in Musselburgh on Thursday – has a deft sense of pace and tension, and boasts an attractive central performance from Sarah Ogley as Mrs Alving. It suffers, though, from some stiff acting elsewhere, and from a text full of the kind of “period” language that creates artificial barriers between modern audiences and classic plays; and although it has its intense and moving moments, in the end the whole production seems just too stuffy and conventional to do full justice to one of the bravest plays in the whole dramatic canon.