Ghosts, Duchess Theatre, London

4.00

Further proof that English theatre is going through a wonderfully positive patch is furnished now with this terrifically compelling and often disarmingly comic account of Ibsen's Ghosts. Not only is actor Iain Glen making a most distinguished debut as a director, but he is turning in a witheringly satiric performance as Pastor Manders, the sanctimonious clerical hypocrite whose real God is not the Lord but his own fearfully guarded personal reputation in a community of small-minded backbiters.

My only niggle (and it was gradually eroded as the production proceeded) is Glen's accent that at first seems to waver between a poor man's Ian Paisley and Gardeners' Question Time. Apart from that, his performance and that of Malcolm Storry, as Engstrand, the dodgy carpenter, are masterly demonstrations of how Dickensian in his treatment of religiose humbug Ibsen can sometimes be. This wretched pair have profile-to-profile false piety contests here that are exquisitely well judged.

As the sheets of deception are inexorably dragged off her carefully arranged false version of the past, the bird-like but battle-ready Lesley Sharp breaks your heart as Mrs Alving. She's the mother whose plans to protect her son from the sins of the father (sins that her own repressiveness had caused) have backfired disastrously. A luminous Mrs Alving sounds as counter-intuitive as a "retiring Cleopatra" but here the glinting steel of the woman's progressive thought is as potent, in the earlier episodes, as the excruciating tyre-burn skid marks that she later makes as she backpedals her way into a revelation of truth. There's a matchless moment when she has to fight tears before firmly admitting that poor Oswald was all of...seven...when he was sent away out of harm's reach. Frank McGuinness's new version derives a lot of energy from pointed, but never over-done alliteration as when, abandoning the blackmail of soothing mendacity, Sharp's Alving tries to undeceive Oswald with the patient insistence of a penitent hypnotist trying to awaken a victim from her spell: "Before you were born, your father was a broken man..."

In the latter role, Harry Treadaway, gives a neurologically naked portrayal that is as audacious as it auspicious. He looks like a more aesthetic and sexually attractive D H Lawrence. Dying of syphilis, this Oswald seems to be dazed with an unbearably moving post-dated nostalgia for a future that he more-than-half knows he will never experience. True to the symptoms of his disease, he increasingly loses control of his body so that his actions tell against him. He strews petals from a flower, to demonstrate how much his art loves life, but it looks as though he's shredding it to death. But then the production has its own additionally poetic way with symbolism. The ghosts that Mrs Alving sees crawling like maggots from between the lines of the newspapers can be heard in the sound of rattling of glass, as though a table had been disturbed by spooks, which is heard between scenes and escalates to alarm- bell pitch. Shockingly good.

To 15 May (0844 579 1940)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition