Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts follows the divisive themes of marital affairs, addiction, incest and euthanasia by weaving them into the fabric of everyday family life. The story follows widow, Helen Alving (Niamh Cusack) efforts to step out from her cheating, alcoholic husbands shadow. Helen has spent her married life painting the perfect picture of marital bliss, presenting to outsiders a husband who appears to be successful, charming and worldly. Now, years after the death of her husband, Helen upholds the myth for the sake of her family, remaining trapped in her own illusions and burdened by her husband’s true crimes.
Ghosts focuses on a family’s inheritance and the emotional remains of the people left behind. Helen feels a need to protect her husband’s reputation despite being the central victim of his violations. The production explores a woman’s identity in a male dominated world, covering the ethical role that religion and marriage play in a modern society. Many of the themes are as controversial today as they were when the play was first performed in 1882.
This forceful adaptation presented at HOME is directed by the Olivier Award winning Polly Findlay, whose seemingly natural set exhibits Helen’s skewed world to the audience. Helen’s intensely compact and dishevelled, opened planned house unravels in front of the audience’s eyes. Rooms dismantle, walls are removed and hidden spaces are revealed for characters to pry behind or detach themselves completely.
When Helen’s son, Oswald returns home from his bohemian lifestyle as a painting abroad, something is amiss. He shows signs of a rare life-threatening illness his father also carried. Oswald, played by Ken Nwosu is forced to inherit the sins of his father without being made aware of the reason for his faulty gene. The persistent presence of her husband’s past indiscretions ensures that Helen’s life remains looped in a space she can no longer break free from.
Ghosts cast are captivating and diverse, Jamie Ballard as Pastor Mander and William Travis as Jakob Engstrand bring a comic relief and levity to the societal pressures that have been intensely set in Helen’s world. The poignant performance of Ken Nwosu alongside Niamh Cusack demonstrate that circumstance can fate people to doom, despite social class, gender or age. This poetic revival of Ghost is a wonderful reminder of what can be accomplished in the HOME theatre space as it showcases a compelling cast and authentic story.