Iain Glen and Lesley Sharp in Ghosts
(© John Haynes)
Iain Glen and Lesley Sharp in Ghosts
(© John Haynes)
While Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts remains a play of great potency, this new West End version at the Duchess Theatre, directed by Iain Glen and featuring a translation by Frank McGuinness, is a curiously lifeless and static affair. The production is tonally flat, pottering along on one level before lurching abruptly into melodrama for the closing scenes, and with too little room for even brief levity.

In Ghosts, the independent-minded Mrs Alving (Lesley Sharp) is about to open an orphanage in memory of her late husband. Her son, Oswald (Harry Treadaway), an artist who has been living a somewhat bohemian existence in Paris, has returned for the occasion. Although both events seem like cause for celebration, it soon becomes apparent that the past casts a long shadow over all the characters, in the shape of specific betrayals and also in a broader social sense, hanging over them like the ever present rain clouds outside the window.

When Mrs Alving, then newly married, discovered the true nature of her husband, she tried to flee but the demands of duty and the advice of the dour and upright Pastor Manders (played by Glen) forced her to return to him and to play the role society required of her, that of the good wife, happy and loyal. To maintain this façade, she felt forced to send Oswald away as a young boy, in order to shield him from the actions of his father -- fearing that the consequences of Captain Alving's behavior will be visited on her son in the cruelest way.

Sharp gives a rich performance. While her Mrs. Alving is superficially composed and sure of herself, underneath there is turmoil. Her look of utter terror on catching sight of her son flirting with Regine (Jessica Raine), the attractive young housemaid, is one of the production's more powerful moments. Glen has the vocal power of a preacher, but his Pastor Manders is rigid and inflexible, with little color in him.

Treadaway has an endearingly disheveled and gangly quality as Oswald, loping about the house with his father's pipe. He's perhaps too cute, too precisely rumpled, although his slightly distant, sleepy manner quickly comes to feel apt when he reveals his awful secret to his mother. Indeed, Treadaway seems to lose confidence as the play moves towards its dramatically raw conclusion. Raine is rather more consistently convincing as Regine, an intelligent young woman dealt a bad hand in life; her justified anger on discovering the truth about her parentage is palpable.

Stephen Brimson Lewis' set is appropriately elegant, a Norwegian drawing room decked out in shades of silver and ice blue, the whole growing increasingly luminescent with the terrible coming of the sun.