Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
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
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
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
Unfortunately, Pip Edwards’ is unconvincing as
Regina Engstrand, appears to be emotionally disconnected from her dialogue.
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.