Arts Review: Ghosts

Dir. Andy Arnold, Tron Theatre, 7 – 24 October 2015

Secrets and lies – the theme of the Tron Theatre’s new production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. Directed by Andy Arnold and adapted by playwright Megan Barker, this production resets Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century Scandinavian classic in the present day Scottish Highlands. The drama follows the Alving family – rich, widowed councillor Helen Alving and her son Oswald, summoned home from travels abroad by his mother’s PA Gina. As plans progress to transform their dilapidated ancestral house into a children’s home, long buried revelations are uncovered.

Barker and Arnold’s production of Ghosts gives us rather more than the original Ibsen play. Inventive and contemporary sound and lighting design transforms the minimal set into a canvas on which to project the unsettling truths unspoken between characters. Significantly altering certain aspects to suit the modern context, Ghosts could be considered less a reimagining and more a creative expansion of the canonical text. This definitely benefits, rather than detracts from the production.

When we view a work as contextually alien as the original Ghosts, we are always at risk of complacency. Looking back on a fundamentally different world from our own familiar sphere, it is too easy to remark ‘How quaint! How funny their problems seem!’ And with that, all nuance is lost. We should remember that in 1881, Ibsen’s original play was deemed unperformable. Its controversial subject matter shocked nations. The Tron’s Ghosts is not quaint by any stretch of the imagination. In reshaping the events of the play to suit a familiar, modern setting, the writer and director conspire to bring all its intended visceral shock home to a 21st century audience.

This play is not always delightful to watch. Skilfully staged and acted with emotional subtlety it may be – in parts it is also deeply harrowing. Yet the message of the work remains as valuable as in the original. Hypocrisy, conspiracy, nepotism and repression still exist, here in Scotland, in 2015 and the parallels with the recent reports of historical child abuse add further relevance to the modernisation of the play. The drama exposes some of our own ghosts, and how very far they remain from exorcism.

[Helen Victoria Murray – @HelenVMurray]

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