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ROSE REVIEW: Ghosts
We are all haunted by ghosts from the past, dreams and obsessions which rule us in ways we cannot understand, sometimes passed down within us from parents or reluctantly and unrealisingly inherited by the community around us.
Ghosts, Stephen Unwin’s final play as artistic director of the Rose Theatre, translated from stage-writer Henrik Ibsen, takes these themes head-on with a gripping tale of burying secrets and confronting unhappiness.
The homecoming of a moping painter Oswald Alving, to his widowed mother Helen’s rural home, sets in motion the revelation of the spectres of the past.
Her defence of her lifestyle against a scheming, but human, Pastor Menders, and her stewardship of young maid Regina Engstrand from her drunkard father Jacob, create the thrust of the plot.
Critics have whispered Unwin would be advised to move on from his obsession with the 19th century Norwegian playwright and his dense plays. Who wants to know about the middle-class habits of Scandinavians 200 years ago, right?
But, if Ghosts is the standard, perhaps he should have done more, not less, of them in his five years at the helm. Funny, shocking, fast-paced, exceptionally well-acted and surprisingly contemporary, the play is the opposite of my own preconceptions of an Ibsen play.
It is difficult not to feel Pastor Menders’ obsession with public opinion, in particular what the newspapers may think of his private failures and the sins he has encouraged others to hide away, could be read as Unwin’s riposte to the critics of the theatre, both political and artistic, during his time.
The play assaults hypocrisy and extols the importance of living free, whatever the cost, although never falls into the moral lecture it threatens to, holding on to the reality of misery. The stage, complete with a giant Edvard Munch canvas, is co-produced by the English Touring Theatre and adds power to the story.
Unwin said in an interview in the programme he has finally moved from the mode of “saving the Rose” to putting on plays. Audiences should hope he haunts the corridors of the Rose again.
Ghosts is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, until October 12 . More details at rosetheatrekingston.org
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