You’re first caught by the sheer scale and yet intimacy of the set for HOME’s production of Ghosts.  This is a complete house that looks impressive and yet ultimately none of the inhabitants want to be there.  Ken Nwosu (who plays Osvald Alving): ‘It evokes the idea of Styx. Every time Osvald gets the boat across, he doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t see it as real, he thinks that if you look out of the door, people see you as a relic.’

Polly Findlay brings Ibsen’s classic play up to date with a new version by David Watson.  Helen Alving (Niamh Cusack) appears to have had the perfect marriage, and uses her deceased husband’s money to build a children’s home.  Her artist son Osvald returns home, but it soon becomes clear that Captain Alving had dark secrets with deep consequences – ‘Captain Alving had [responsibility] a little confused’.  His far reaching impact on Osvald becomes increasingly evident, in terms of inherited disease, addiction and an illegitimate child – ‘the sins of the father are visited on the son’.

‘The catalyst is an argument between Pastor Manders [Jamie Ballard] and Osvald. Manders argues for a 19th century set of values based on duty, responsibility and self sacrifice. Oswald counters with individuality, self expression and the right to seek the truth.’  A key theme is the gap between the expectations and reality of the behaviour of both men and women.

This is a brilliant production, a bold adaptation of a classic text that speaks to us here and now.  What stands out is not just the use of contemporary language, but how the relationships reflect our present lives.  These are complex, at times deeply flawed characters who tread a fine line between the demands of society and the need for their own independence.  What also impresses is the perfect pace of the production, drawing in the audience and taking you on a compelling but intelligent journey through the minds and lives of five isolated individuals.

Although this looks like classic British theatre, the style reminds me more of German plays I have seen, especially Schaubühne Berlin’s An Enemy of the People (also Ibsen).  There seems to be more of a provocation, to show something new.  And that is what this production does so effectively.  Easily one of the best productions I have seen at HOME, and a potent reminder of this theatre’s potential.

Presented by HOME Manchester from 18 Nov – 3 Dec 2016

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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