Erik Skuggevik’s sensitive, sinuous, almost Pinteresque translation of Ibsen’s original might well turn out to be the real star turn here. Good as these five actors are, they are the better for having dialogue to deliver that is both impassioned and utterly realistic - instead of something that has often sounded like a mawkish 19th-century translation. Here is a voice entirely appropriate for a play years ahead of its time, running through the whole gamut of taboos of infidelity, illegitimacy, venereal disease, incest and euthanasia.
Margot Leicester (Helena Alving) and Oscar Pearce (Oswald Irving) in a scene from Ghosts at the Octagon Theatre Photo: Ian Tilton
Fresh from their recent success at the Octagon in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Margot Leicester and George Irving are outstanding in the principal roles of Helena Alving and Pastor Manders. She is desperately seeking enlightenment by turning to the modern free thinkers. He is clinging to his cloth, rigidly righteous in all his public affairs. Undoubtedly, the early feminist Ibsen takes her side and exposes the pastor’s self-regarding casuistry for what it is.
The flame-haired Oscar Pearce is ideally cast as Helena’s son, Oswald, an impetuous, self-tortured young man paying with his constitution for the sins of his father. We might have vastly more sympathy for his plight, however, if he did not want to inflict it on the aspiring housemaid Regina, whose febrile qualities are nicely captured by relative newcomer Vanessa Kirby. Russell Richardson excels as the incorrigible rogue Jacob Engstrand, more than a match for the pastor when it comes to affecting the pieties and manipulating his way to material comfort. On reflection, he might well be the most emotionally honest of the whole bunch.
Olivier award-winning director David Thacker has surpassed even his recent achievements with Miller’s play. This spare, seamless production touches the raw nerve and might well be a definitive interpretation of Ibsen for our times.