28 September 2013

Ibsen's Ghosts at the Rose Theatre

I think that it is fair to say that my experiences with both Ibsen's plays and the Rose Theatre's productions has been a little mixed so it was something of a leap of faith to go and see Ghosts at the Rose.

Other people obviously had the same trepidations and the theatre, though by no means empty, was by no means full on this Saturday night either. Which was a shame, I may not be the Rose's biggest fan but I want it to succeed.

The stage was surprisingly set as, er, a normal stage and the Rose's thrust stage had been disguised as a standard proscenium stage. One of my criticisms of the Rose has been that it has not made enough of its unique design (unlike, say, the Orange Tree which does) and to see one of its own productions presented in this was was a little sad.

The set was a simple room with a front door to the outside and another to the rest of the house. The room was sparsely set despite being a wealthy person's house.

The story centres around a widow Helen Alving, her son Oswald and her maid Regina Engstrand with contributions from Helen's pastor and Regina's father.

The play opened with Regina and her father. Both spoke in broad Scottish accents which suggested that the play had been moved from Norway to Scotland, which could have worked, but this was not the case so either the accents were an attempt to indicate that they were working class or they were just a mistake, assuming that both actors were capable of doing other accents.

The ghosts were provided by the dead Captain Alving and the consequences of his actions. As we listened to the conversations between the players we learnt more about these and a simple situation became increasingly complex and unpleasant.

After an hour and something we had an unexpected and unnecessary break. I've really grown to like plays that do not stop except for when the story or the staging demands it. This was not one of the cases and the break just dissipated the drama that Ibsen had been building.

In the shorter second half those drams coalesced in to two crises that hit the Alving very hard. The play ends with Helen facing the difficult choices of murder, suicide, both or neither. What happens next is left to us to decide and I felt cheated by this. As with other Ibsen plays, great tension had been built steadily from a quiet beginning only for the end to throw all the good work away with either an unrealistic ending or no ending at all.

I might have been happier if I had left at the interval.

The story apart, the play had lots of good points, including the acting, and right up to the end it was gripping entertainment.

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