David Thacker’s artistic directorship at Bolton Octagon continues with Ghosts, featuring four actors from his previous production of All My Sons.
Ibsen’s 1881 play, with its themes of adultery, incest, venereal infection and moral hypocrisy was considered scandalous in its day, and is still pretty hot stuff over a century later.
Wealthy widow Mrs Alving has built an orphanage in memory of her late husband, and old family friend Pastor Manders has come to finalise the arrangements before the grand opening. With the Alvings’ artist son Oswald just returned from Paris, the scene is set for a happy domestic interlude. However Mrs Alving’s apparently comfortable home-life is about to be revealed as a whited sepulchre hiding secrets which have the power to destroy all that is dearest to her.
The programme records the great lengths director David Thacker, translator Erik Skuggevik and the whole cast and have gone to in order to develop the script for a freshly minted “Lancashire version” of Ghosts. However anyone expecting some resemblance to a Blake Morrison/Northern Broadsides interpretation will be disappointed, with not much specifically localised apart from a servant remarking “bloody hell” and “bugger”; nevertheless it is an admirably clear reading of the text.
I don’t think I have ever seen anyone look as at home or relaxed on stage as Margot Leicester, whose Mrs Alving practically curls up like a kitten and purrs at Pastor Manders, her frisky youth still all too evident to the straight-laced priest.
George Irving as Pastor Manders, a man who has ever but slenderly known himself let alone anybody else, convincingly conveys the gullible cleric and subtly mines the unintended humour in Act 2.
Oscar Pearce’s bohemian Oswald makes an astonishing impact on his first entrance, the crumpled white linen suit and red waistcoat a huge contrast with the dark repressed world of his northern homeland, and the character’s gradual decline through the play is deeply touching.
If there is a flaw in this production it is the large table which sits in the middle of the tiny in-the-round space, creating a barrier between the actors as they play out powerful confrontations, dramatic confessions and heartbreaking revelations. But overall the intimacy of the venue and the intensity of the piece overcome this obstacle to create a unique theatrical experience.
Ghosts is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 21 November 2009
Tickets: from £9.00
Evenings: Mon-Sat at 7.30pm
Matinees: Fri 30 and Sat 31 October, Mon 2, Wed 11 and Sat 14 Nov @ 2pm
Box Office: 01204 520661