Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. Paper Moon Productions at ANU Arts Centre, directed by Geoffrey Borny. September 11 - 20, 1997,7.30 pm.
Ghosts (1881), sequel to the perhaps more well-known A Doll's House, is about a woman's duty and freedom, but also opens up other issues very much in today's news: sexually transmitted disease, a child's inherited defects, hiding the truth from children about their parents, and euthanasia.
Geoffrey Borny directs a new translation from the original Norwegian by May-Brit Akerholt (dramaturg for the Sydney Theatre Company and director of the Australian National Playwrights' Conference) and the playwright Louis Nowra. The result is a play of subtle twists in emotional relationships, handled well by all the actors but especially by Naoné Carrel and Tony Turner as Mrs Alving and Pastor Manders.
Ibsen wrote to August Lindberg, director of the 1883 Hälsinborg production (who also played Helene Alving's son Oswald), that the play depends a great deal on "making the spectator feel as if he were actually sitting, listening and looking at events happening in real life". This was the new realism in theatre which was, I think, not fully achieved on opening night. Some intensity is lost in movements which "use the stage" but are psychologically unnecessary. Lighting changes need to be smoother and slower so the emotional effect on the audience is achieved more subliminally. The openness of the set design works well in the Arts Centre space for sight-lines, but requires greater intensity of stillness to focus us on each character's conflicting feelings. Especially I felt the final stages of Oswald's decline into insanity as the sun rises needed to gradually build more horror in us sitting, looking and listening, before his mother on stage realises what has happened.
Regine (Sarah Chalmers) and her "father" Jacob Engstrand (Richard Anderson) open the play with a strong, lively interchange. Patrick Brammall presents Oswald's dramatic mood changes well. Tony Turner and Naoné Carrell are consistently good, experienced actors. I sense that the production will deepen and intensify through the season.
Ghosts is a highly relevant classic play well worth seeing in this intelligent production - and remember curtain-up is at 7.30, giving plenty of time at the end for coffee and discussion.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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