After Richard Eyre’s recent West End production of Ghosts was showered with Olivier awards, the possibility of seeing a likewise laudable production here in Melbourne was an exciting prospect. Sadly, Gale Edwards’ impenetrable adaptation has produced a turgid and melodramatic rendering of this classic that looks elegant, but is anything but that.
Written in 1881, Ghosts is one of Henrik Ibsen’s more well known plays, famed for its deliberately sensational plot in which he takes shots at the promiscuous morality of the time. Widow, Helene Alving (Linda Cropper) is about to open an orphanage memorialising her late husband, with the help of her advisor and confidante, Pastor Manders (Philip Quast). However it seems that Captain Alving was far from being the sort of man deserving of such an honour, as the inheritance of his lifestyle is brought to bear upon Helene’s son Oswald, a painter who has recently returned home from Paris with a hidden suffering of his own. Throughout the course of one eventful night, the result of a life made of lies and deceptions plays its way out to a bitter end.
In this production, Shaun Gurton’s set design paints an almost dystopian picture of a home rotted away by its patriarch’s infidelities. Peeling wallpaper, curling floorboards and a jumble of stacked books are framed by a modernistic picture window, streaming with raindrops, creating a moody ambience and harshly forced perspective. Paul Jackson’s lighting adds further drama to the stark setting.
But beyond this evocative picture, there is little to excite. It seems as though Edwards has completely missed the point of Ibsen’s script, or has given its objectives such scant service that the true meaning to be drawn is lost in all the melodrama. Truthfully, it’s hard to comprehend what Edwards was trying to achieve here, because it’s almost impossible to uncover her character’s motivations under all the music hall style mannerisms and overly impassioned speeches.
I suppose this style could be viewed as classical tragedy, but what it does here is rob Ibsen’s script of all its light and shade. By taking an indelicate approach, the little complexity that there is in the plot is rounded off to such a basic definition that most of Ibsen’s creative objectives are lost.
For what they are asked to do, the cast put in strong efforts. Cropper gives all of her emotions to Mrs Alving in a highly wrought performance, while Quast defines the pastor as a bloated extremist. As Oswald and housemaid Regina, MTC debutantes Ben Pfeiffer and Pip Edwards do their best, but are left looking as inexperienced as they are. Richard Piper comes out pretty unscathed as Regina’s stepfather, adding some interesting colour to the proceedings in the few moments he spends on stage.
Sadly, decent performances don’t do enough to make this production one worth recommending. However if you’re looking for a cure for insomnia, this might just be your ticket.