Ghosts, Duchess Theatre, London
Thursday 25 February 2010
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)
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food