Sunday, 21 March 2010

Review: Ghosts, Duchess Theatre, 20 March 2010

I think Ibsen is an acquired taste: I came upon this revelation during my trip to Sheffield to see An Enemy of the People at the gorgeous new Crucible. I mean, the first time I encountered Ibsen (at college) I didn't like it very much. And even when I saw new versions by authors I like (Lucy Kirkwood's Hedda) or excellent productions (the Donmar's A Doll's House) I remained lukewarm.

Then last year I attended a small rehearsed reading of Ghosts at the Young Vic, version via Frank McGuiness, directed by Ian Glenn and with Lesley Sharp and my favourite Tom Brooke as mother and son. It was a powerful piece of theatre, despite it being a reading (although many of my favourite theatrical experiences have come by the way of readings) and started turning my head around about Ibsen. I guess it will always remain my favourite work from him and even if the scandal that the mentioning of syphillis caused in Ibsen's era might sound alien to modern audience Ghosts is every bit as much a poignant, taxing and moving play as when it was written.

So why is it that the power of that rehearsed reading doesn't translate as well to a finished production? Even though I didn't dislike this play as much, I can understand the sense of bafflement from one of my favourite theatre bloggers about the piece. I still think the early notices are unfair but there is something severly lacking here. It's not the actors - Lesley Sharp is as fabulous and refreshing as ever, she gives an unhindered Mrs.Alving and that performance only is worth the money of the ticket. Glenn's Manders is as spineless in comparsion as he should be, on the verge of pathetic but sympathetic just for that. Harry Treadaway does a comendable job in a hard, vital role - but I'm afraid that I spent most of the play remembering Harry Lloyd's take on the character in the Arcola production last year. Lloyd's Oswald will be hard to forget in years to come, I'm afraid, but still Treadaway seems like a great hope for the future, we must remember his stage debut was only last year, and he did brilliantly, in Mark Ravenhill's Over There. I was also cheered by the presence of Jessica Raine as Regina: I feel as if I had seen this girl grow up, after her great performances in Harper Regan and Gethsemane at the National.

Maybe it was the elaborated set and costumes; although I appreciated the airy and well-lit stage, a change from the usual dark and somber productions. Maybe the play worked better in the reading because of its rawness, with minimal props and some light effects. Maybe it's that I believe this play should be performed without interval. Maybe it was the early notices affecting the whole mood. Whatever the case, I didn't find it as poignant. The audience, icy, might have contributed. I left the theatre (after spotting Dominic Cooke some seats behind me, by the way) oddly unsatisfied.

Other reviews:
The Telegraph.
There Ought To Be Clowns.
The Londonist.
The Independent.

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