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Ghosts review at Home, Manchester – ‘a bold reworking of Ibsen’

Ken Nwosu and Niamh Cusack in Ghosts at Home, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
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The f-word was never part of Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic vocabulary. Not even in the murky truth-seeking world of Ghosts, in which he disturbed the massive disconnect between social codes of conduct and personal hypocrisy by shattering taboos around incest and congenital syphilis.

David Watson’s audacious new version, from a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund, transposes an 1880s language and moral mindset to the present day, with a few explicit words thrown in as if to underline the time-distance. But it’s Polly Findlay’s bold and provocative production that gives it a powerful theatrical energy, exploring the spooky tensions that constantly churn and collide throughout the piece between the ghosts of the past being revealed on stage and the reality of our own lived present where attitudes to family life and sexual relations are so different.

Fine young actor Ken Nwosu plays Oswald, the doomed prodigal son who inherits the sins of his dissolute dead father.  There’s even a weird duality in Johannes Schutz’ set, which juts into the auditorium. At first glance it’s a realistic, homely room that could easily be mistaken as the setting for a domestic comedy, then, when light begins to shine on the diseased relationship between Helen Alving, her husband, Oswald and the equally tainted maidservant Regine (Norah Lopez Holden), the doors leading nowhere and the piles of clutter seem to become a metaphor for Helen’s life-long inability to discard hidden family secrets and lies, with Niamh Cusack quite superb at conveying her double-edged vulnerability and eventual tragic culpability for continuing to deny awful truths.

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Verdict
A masterpiece of European drama remade as a provocative play for today
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