When Ibsen’s problem play Ghosts first appeared in Europe during 1881, it was dismissed as a “foul and filthy concoction which should not have been allowed to disgrace the boards of an English theatre”.
In an excellent programme note, the writer Sue Prideaux tells us that the play confronted a “gamut of shocking subjects”. Ghosts deals with incest, venereal disease, marital hypocrisy, euthanasia, the rejection of feminism and also embraces free love and the founding of an orphanage for illegitimate, unwanted children in the socially repressive Nordic town where this play takes place.
Osvald Alving (Mark Quartley) returns home from a life in Paris as a young artist. We learn slowly that he is seriously ill and that his capacity for an active working life is becoming severely limited. His syphilis is an incurable inheritance from his dissolute father.
Outside are dark mountains and it rains depressingly and continually.
Mrs Alving ( Kelly Hunter) is a proto-feminist, the European New Woman echoing similar characters from George Bernard Shaw. Mrs Alving reads books and thus is in direct conflict with the local priest, Pastor Manders (the excellent Patrick Drury), hypocritical and silkily persuasive.
Great writing and acting give these sequences a powerful impact. Things conclude with Osvald’s passage into darkness, railing against the dying of the light while begging his mother to put him to sleep when the pain becomes intolerable .
In these harrowing moments, Ms Kelly and Mr Quartley take this marvellous play, directed by Stephen Unwin, to the heights and their wonderful acting reduced this hardened old reviewer to tears. Runs until November 30.