Ghosts**** (Watford Palace Theatre, 20 November 2013)

Posted: November 21, 2013 in Theatre

With Richard Eyre’s current Almeida production of Henrik’s Ibsen’s great play already gathering awards and scheduled for a transfer to the West End, 2013  is certainly a good year for “Ghosts”. This version by English Touring Theatre, which started life at the Rose Theatre Kingston, carried with it lower expectations, but it manages to exceed them with some comfort. Like Eyre, the director Stephen Unwin has translated the play himself. However, whilst Eyre’s production ran for an uninterrupted 90 minutes, this one is 45 minutes longer, including an interval. Although it cannot match the sharpness of focus and intensity achieved by Eyre, the more languid pace has its own compensations and the play remains absorbing throughout. A big attraction is the replication of a set designed by Edvard Munch for a 1906 production of this play and not used since. It is a magnificent creation, with just a chaise longue, a table and a few chairs occupying a large room, surrounded by stone walls that are decorated only with a portrait of the dead Alving hanging over a fireplace in which a log fire burns; most impressive is a back screen on which dark grey clouds float by throughout the first two acts and, during the final act, the sun rises from behind distant mountains. Although there are no star names here, the production is well cast and the acting is solid throughout. Kelly Hunter as Helen Alving and Patrick Drury as Manders both do well, but Mark Quartley is outstanding, capturing perfectly the confusion and vulnerability of the stricken Osvald. This is an excellent production which does not deserve to be overshadowed completely by its higher profile rival.

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