I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Sins of the Father
Niamh Cusack features on the poster for Ghosts, wearing an expression for which the word 'haunted' is too understated. It is a clue, even if you did not know the work of Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906), that HOME'S new production is not a musical or its Christmas show.
It is a slight surprise then that the play opens with laughs. William Travis – known to TV audiences from Coronation Street and Manchester theatre audiences from JB Shorts, amongst others – makes a shambolic entrance, in a good way.
He is Jacob Engstrand, visiting his daughter Regine (an impressive HOME debut by Norah Lopez Holden), who is in service for the Alving family.
He arrives on to a set, which is so cluttered that it is reassuring to those who consider our living rooms untidy. The clutter also serves as a metaphor for the psychological baggage, which the characters carry with them.
Niamh Cusack (Helen Alving) in Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.
This is particularly true of Helen Alving. Niamh Cusack (a member of the Irish acting dynasty), gives a compelling performance as a woman for whom self-control is a daily battle. It is a great example of acting, which conveys with every expression and inflexion what lies between the lines, as well as what is explicitly stated in the dialogue.
Jamie Ballard also gives an intense performance as Pastor Manders. A man whose faith and duty to publicly embody it, is not an easy task.
The play, directed by Polly Findlay, is the first outing for a new version by David Watson. Ghosts was first performed in first staged in 1882 in Chicago, rather than Ibsen's home country – Norway.
Norah Lopez Holden (Regine Engstrand) and Jamie Ballard (Pastor Manders) in Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Photo by Jonathan Keenan
A sign in HOME'S foyer warns us that the production contains 'smoking and strong language' and is recommended for those aged 14 or older. The use of modern language and rhythms of speech energises the dialogue, without losing its dramatic power.
As ever though, with modern-dress performances, it is in danger of undercutting the predicament in which the characters find themselves. Even if we accept the importance of the church and its pastor to the protagonists, a modern household would not bb so disconnected from the modern world when they closed the front door.
That said, Ghosts will continue to be relevant for as long as we inherit and pass on more than what is in our last will and testament. The play is not about child abuse specifically but its story of historic behaviour smouldering in the dark for years until it comes to light, strikes a contemporary and unsettling chord.
William Travis (Jacob Engstrand) in Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Photo by Jonathan Keenan
The production runs for two hours without an interval. It is a slow burn and requires stamina and concentration on the part of the audience as well as the actors. However, the effort is rewarded with the memory of a drama, which replays in the memory as we walk out into the chilly November night.