‘GHOSTS’ at Belvoir: Theatre Review

Belvoir’s adaptation of Ghosts by Henrisk Ibsen opens on the image of a dark, grey garden-room as the light sound of rain fills the background. A maid, Regine (Taylor Ferguson) rushes in to open all the shutters and let light flood in from the carefully constructed faux windows, revealing the entirety of this mesmerizing set. From the outset, Ghosts is, aesthetically, an extremely beautiful play.

The play is set in western Norway, in a small country estate owned by Mrs Helene Alving (Pamela Rabe), widow to the renowned Captain Alving. Helene’s son, Osvald, has recently come home from his life as a painter in Paris, but his return is about to unlock a closet of secrets that will forever change the lives of those around him.

All of the action takes place entirely within the home’s garden-room as the five characters move in and out of its walls. In quite classic Ibsen fashion, Ghosts’ script relies largely on conversations between two people. Rarely across the play do all five characters meet at once, and although when they do the tension and energy is palpable, the vast majority of the play is driven by smaller, much slower moments, and often these prove to be its downfall. Director Eamon Flack has chosen to embrace Ibsen’s long-form conversations, blocking this dialogue with little movement. For a large part of the play’s second act, Helene and Pastor Manders (Robert Menzies) sit down at a table and discuss an insurance claim for a charity house that Helene wishes to build. This conversation takes up a lot of our time as an audience, however is later revealed to have very little meaning, and it seems that a lot of conversations across Ghosts suffer from the same logic. The play is structured through three acts, and by the end of the third I was left feeling that perhaps it was the only one we really needed to see in order to understand Ghosts’ plot. Act Three was tense and highly engaging, but it also brought the play’s most important moments, and somehow it felt like we’d taken much too long to get there.

Brett Boardman production image

The set design continues to bring an incredible ambience throughout the entirety of Ghosts. Set and lighting designers Michael Hankin and Nick Schlieper manipulate the garden-room brilliantly, making us feel though we are inside it as the rainy afternoon slowly slips into night. As the overheads dim, an oil lamp forms the central light source for the play’s middle act, creating both beautiful imagery and a tangible intimacy between audience and those on stage.

While the cast overall is a strong one, Pamela Rabe is a stand out in this production. Her presence is felt immediately after she steps foot on stage. Rabe fluctuates smoothly between utter command of the stage in moments of extreme tension, to effortless naturalism, to being the unlikely comedic relief in some of the play’s darkest conversations. Tom Conroy also brings some heart-breaking intensity to the role of Osvald in the play’s final act, driving some of the production’s most moving scenes.

Belvoir’s Ghosts has done some wonderful things with Ibsen’s famous work. It is, at several points, extremely beautiful and engaging; despite moments in which I will admit I felt perhaps it tended to drag. With a very strong cast, moving story and incredible set, this play is certainly worth catching before the end of it’s run next month.

Ghosts is running at Belvoir St. Theatre until October 22.