Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ghosts, MTC May 21, 2014 ***

By Henrik Ibsen, Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until 21 June, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3
This review is not for the Herald Sun. KH
  Ben Pfeiffer, Linda Cropper, Philip Quast
Henrik Ibsen’s late 19th century play, Ghosts, is imbued with a ghastly sense of claustrophobia and dread that is missing in this production by internationally acclaimed director, Gale Edwards.

The ghosts of the dead haunt Ibsen’s characters as do the oppressive ideas, restrictive morality and social obligations of a rigid Norwegian society.

On a dank, wet day, Pastor Manders (Philip Quast) visits Mrs. Helene Alving (Linda Cropper) to discuss the forthcoming opening of an orphanage that will be a memorial to her dead husband.

Shabby secrets are revealed about the past debauchery of Mrs. Alving’s philandering husband and about the creeping illness of her prodigal son, Oswald (Ben Pfeiffer), who has returned from Paris after abandoning his career as an artist.

The play was wildly controversial in moralistic, inflexible Norway in 1893 because of its allusions to adultery, venereal disease, incest and births out of wedlock.

This version is savagely edited to about 90 minutes, which compresses the action to such a degree that it loses any sense of the arduous, aching drama and strips out much of the character and relationship development.

The actors work very hard to maintain the ominous atmosphere but the heightened style of acting slips into soap opera at times with dialogue sounding rushed.

Quast’s resonant voice gives dignity to the absurdly egotistical and pedantic Pastor Manders, whose supercilious attitude backfires on him by the end of the play.

As the long-suffering but still passionate Mrs. Helene Alving, Cropper is elegant and dignified.

Pfeiffer has the ideal pallid, emaciated appearance for the ailing Oswald who is vulnerable, weak and childlike but still clutching at life and art.

Richard Piper drags the crass, manipulative workman, Jacob Engstrand, into the contemporary world with his swearing and joking.

Unfortunately, Pip Edwards’ is unconvincing as Regina Engstrand, appears to be emotionally disconnected from her dialogue.

Shaun Gurton’s stark, grey, dilapidated interior design and Paul Jackson’s bleak chilling lighting contributes more to a forbidding atmosphere that echoes the dissolution, grief and sickness in the household.

The censorship of this somewhat didactic play may seem silly now, but Ibsen still has something to say to 21st century audiences about marriage and wifely duties, social conventions, women’s roles and double standards, hypocrisy and freedom.

It is a pity that this production that boasts such a feted director and lead actors, does not do justice to Ibsen’s courageous and unnerving play.

Kate Herbert

Director: Gale Edwards
Design: Shaun Gurton’s
Lighting: Paul Jackson 

Linda Cropper
Phillip Quast
Ben Pfeiffer
Richard Piper
Pip Edwards

Rehearsal pic

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