A controversial drama full of heavy themes

Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen
Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

Ghosts, Henrik Ibsen, Theatre Royal Brighton, until Saturday December 7

Ibsen’s work still shocks you to your core, even more than 100 years after it was written.

When Ghosts was first released, the play was performed in private theatres, because its content was too controversial for the mainstream theatres in Europe and was frequently banned.

Staged in private theatres in Berlin, the play was read by students in cafes as they were unable to read its daring contents at home under the watchful eyes of their parents.

Themes it explores include incest, patriarchal society, secrets lurking in middle class society and the hypocrisy of religion.

It lifts the lid on the fact men could behave how they wanted, while women were expected to be pure and simply put up with their husband’s bad behaviour.

And it looks at the impact such an imbalanced family set up can have on the children.

The action plays out in one room, recalling the Greek dramatic device of unity of space and serving to ramp up the tension between the characters as secret upon secret is revealed, to shatter the world of what at first appears to be a well to do Norwegian family.

An alcoholic father with a wandering eye who died ten years ago, even now is causing problems for Mrs Alving (Kelly Hunter) and her artist son Osvald (Mark Quartley) and it is as if his ghost is still walking among them.

Pastor Manders (Patrick Drury) and his conservative views on women is criticised throughout the play, challenging society’s view on a woman’s place in life.

The drama leaves you with a knot in your stomach, which grows and grows during the unravelling of the tangled web of lies dished out to the characters, until an explosive conclusion leaves you glued to your seat and staring at the stage wide eyed with disbelief.

The performances are powerful and emotionally charged, holding you captive with their every move and word.

The set too must be mentioned, because it is based on the designs by artist Edvard Munch, who used his family home in Norway as his inspiration.

In the room is a floor to ceiling window, which looks out on to the oppressive and lonely countryside: mountains in the distance, pine trees and a continuous drizzle are projected on to the canvas.

It is only as the play reaches its tragic ending that the drizzle begins to clear and the sun comes out, delivering an allegorical message that once the truth is out, there is a promise of redemption but at what cost?

Powerful, shocking and thought provoking, no theatre fan should miss out on Ghosts by Ibsen.

By Samantha Clark