Ghosts, Loft Theatre, Leamington, until April 7
Family life, says the pompous and patronising priest in Ibsen’s extraordinary
play, is not as pure as it ought to be.
A massive understatement by anyone’s standards, but in this context it forms
the basis of a drama which pierces the very soul of human nature. The
differences between 19 th century values and the issues of the modern age may
seem obvious yet they are strictly superficial. More than anything, this is a
penetrating, crushing observation of hypocrisy in any era.
Robert Lowe’s adaptation for the Loft might at first glance seem like the work
of a one-man band because he also directs the play and tackles a leading role
as the appalling Pastor Manders. But such is the skill and style with which he
has shaped the piece that what has emerged is a powerful and compelling all-
round company endeavour.
Henrik Ibsen’s work is rich in intensity and, indeed, bravado for exploring what
were in his day taboo subjects such as incest, sexual disease and euthanasia.
This new version gives a clear, fresh perspective on the devastation wrought
on the lives of the widowed Mrs Alving and her artist son as they are forced to
wrestle with the ghosts of past indiscretions.
It also boldly underscores humour through the self-righteousness and bigotry
of the Pastor who, in the midst of his sanctimonious tirades, urges the
unfortunate widow not to abandon the concept of ideals. Here Robert Lowe’s
performance matches the consummate skill of his writing.
The lighter moments extend to a sub-plot involving a rough-diamond carpenter
friend who claims to be the father of the widow’s maid. Jeremy Heynes lets
loose with a richly enjoyable caricature, something of an Ibsen forerunner to
Alfred Doolittle. We can almost hear him ranting on about middle-class
For the principal victims of the drama, however, their real effectiveness lies in
the fine performances of Julie Godfrey as Mrs Alving and Janeks Babidorics as
her tragically wayward son. Together their scenes are emotionally charged.
Ibsen did indeed deliver a revealing and mentally brutal slice of theatricality.
His demanding challenges are strikingly well met.