Drama which pierces the soul of human nature
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 morality. 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.