Ghosts – Abbey Theatre – Review

Ghosts – Abbey Theatre – Review

Dates: 15 April – 13 May
On the Abbey stage

Photos by Patrick Redmond

Ghosts tells the story of Helena Alving (Cathy Belton). She is just about to open an Orphanage, along with the help of Pastor Manders (Declan Conlon). The Orphanage is to be named after her late husband, who died a number of years previously. Her son Oswald Alving (Calam Lynch) is a painter and has recently returned to the family home. Outwardly, they seem like an affluent and upstanding family but if you look a little closer, you can see the cracks starting to show.

Ghosts was written by Henrik Ibsen in 1881. This is a new version of the play written and directed by Mark O’Rowe. O’Rowe is known for such plays as Terminus and Howie the Rookie. His play Our Few and Evil Days was first produced in the Abbey in 2014 to much acclaim. This new version of Ghosts is more of a period piece than we are used to from O’Rowe, so in a sense is a new direction for him, and sticks closely to the plot of the original.

The setting for the play, created by set designer Francis O’Connor, is the sitting room and sunroom of the Alving household. There are doors on either side of the stage, as well as the doors of the sunroom, to allow movement on all sides. The wall of glass at the back of the set allows for occasional dramatic lighting by Lighting Designer Sinéad McKenna.

As with much of Ibsen’s work, Ghosts is a critique of the morals and sensibilities of the time it was written.  The Victorian age was one of decorum, etiquette and manners, whereas under the surface it was quite different.  Ibsen aimed to expose these ambiguities and hypocrisies and start a debate that would change society.  With themes of incest, venereal disease, euthanasia, duty and morality, the storyline feels too packed with incidents.  It is an intense and fast-moving plot with hints of melodrama.

The cast is impressive with Cathy Belton playing the complex character of Helena Alving. She has spent much of her life trying to hide the actions of her late husband to save the reputation of her family. The cold and cordial nature of Pastor Manders is important as the moral compass of the piece, with Declan Conlon playing the stiff and stoic man. Simone Collins has quite a journey as the maid Regina Engstrand. She has dreams of a better life and hopes to achieve it. Oswald Alving is played Calam Lynch, a young man struggling with a variety of ailments who never found his place in the world. Lorcan Cranitch has a small part as Jacob Engstrand, a boorish and uncivilised man.

O’Rowe has chosen an unusual play to rework as it is packed with incident and melodrama. The audience is taken on a journey with many secrets and scandals revealed over the course of the production. Some of the twists are quite obvious to the modern viewer, with much foreshadowing. Regardless, It is interesting to see the morals of another time played out on stage and also how it reflects on our own. The performance of Cathy Belton is the true highlight of the production as we see a woman willing to give up her life for her son.

Helena Alving: Cathy Belton
Regina Engstrand: Simone Collins
Pastor Manders: Declan Conlon
Jacob Engstrand: Lorcan Cranitch
Oswald Alving: Calam Lynch

Written by: Henrik Ibsen
A new version written and directed by: Mark O’Rowe
Set Designer: Francis O’Connor
Costume Designer: Joan O’Clery
Lighting Designer: Sinéad McKenna
Sound Designer: Aoife Kavanagh
Publicity Image: Patricio Cassinoni

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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