THE LONDON Classic Theatre make a welcome visit to the Town Hall this month with its riveting production of Henrik Ibsen’s powerful play Ghosts in a translation by Frank McGuinness.
Although written in 1881, this is no staid Victorian drama. Ghosts can surprise modern audiences with some of the issues that it discusses, including out of wedlock children, venereal disease, infidelity, and euthanasia.
Ghosts is the story of Helene Alving, who is preparing for the opening of an orphanage, built in memory of her late husband. Mrs Alving plans to raise this one memorial to him so she will not have to speak of him again: he was a cheating philanderer whose public reputation was a sham.
Her beloved artist son, Oswald, has returned from Paris to honour the occasion, but his long-awaited homecoming rapidly descends into tragedy as his presence triggers the exposure of a dark story of hypocrisy and betrayed love.
The ‘ghosts’ in this play are taboo topics that cannot openly be discussed. Ibsen’s study of hidden passions and family secrets remains as dramatically alive as ever in Frank McGuinness’ vital new version.
Ghosts scandalised audiences when it was first staged; The Daily Telegraph called it “an open drain, a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly” and The Daily Chronicle found it “revoltingly suggestive and blasphemous”.
King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway would later declare to Ibsen, at a dinner in the author’s honour, that Ghosts was not a good play, prompting the playwright to explode “Your Majesty, I had to write Ghosts!”
After the initial furore died down, the play came to be recognised as one of Ibsen’s major works and it has been an enduring classic of the stage ever since. It is therefore a fitting choice of production for the much-feted London Classic Theatre and their staging has been hailed as “a stunning reworking of Ibsen’s masterpiece” by The Stage magazine.
The production is directed by LCT founder and artistic director Michael Cabot and, ahead of the play’s Galway visit, he shared his thoughts on the play over an afternoon phone-call from his London home, beginning with why he chose to stage it.
“I’ve wanted to do Ghosts for some time,” he says. “It’s been one of my favourite plays for many years. Also, we’ve been mainly doing modern classics by the likes of Pinter, Orton, Mike Leigh, and I felt it was time we did something a little different and dipped into the 19th century repertoire.
“We happened to be doing Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and his agent mentioned to me that he had done a new version of Ghosts. Once I read it I really wanted to do it, it’s a wonderful translation.”
Cabot expands on the qualities of McGuinness’s version.
“Ghosts is sometimes seen as a highbrow, austere, difficult play but Frank succeeds in making it accessible,” he says. “He manages this neat trick where the language sounds like it’s from a different time to our own yet it still manages to be very immediate and present.”
While Ghosts’ savage critique of Victorian-era morality shocked contemporary audiences, does it retain the power to grip and move present-day playgoers?
“That’s something we’ve been finding on our current tour,” Cabot replies. “Ibsen has a real sense of how small, parochial, communities work, and how history can bleed through to the present.
“On our tour, as we move away from London to smaller towns we’ve been finding that audiences respond differently to the play and they pick up on that aspect of it. We’ve just been in Coleraine in Northern Ireland with the play and audiences there really engaged with it and recognised the truthfulness of how Ibsen portrays that community. The morality in the play remains very relevant.”
The cast includes Peter Cadden, Hasan Dixon, Brendan Fleming, Abby Leamon and Pauline Whitaker. The play is at the Town Hall Theatre on Tuesday May 17 and Wednesday 18 at 8pm.
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie