Ghosts – Theatre review by Ben Spencer

Ghosts @ Trafalgar Studios
4th March 2014
Review by Ben Spencer
Rating 4/5




Lesley Manville as Helene
Jack Lowden as Oswald
Adam Kotz as Manders
Brian McCardie as Jacob
Charlene McKenna as Regina




Adapted and directed by Richard Eyre
Written by Henrik Ibsen
Designs by Tim Hartley
Lighting by Peter Mumford
Sound by John Leonard

Having strolled down Whitehall and being drawn in by the poster of Ghosts and its various 5 star ratings decorated around the borders of Trafalgar Studios, the allure of this production was enough to find myself at the box office with a front row ticket purchased within several minutes later.

trafalgar studiosThe title of play exists as a metaphor to illustrate one of the core themes within the narrative of the past shrouding over the present events in this revival Henrik Isben’s written play 1881 that centres around the bleak portrayal of 19th Century morality.

The protagonist Helene Alving remains at the forefront of this grief stricken tale as her son Oswald, an artist who has spent his formative years in France returns on the 10th anniversary of his father’s death. The father remains unnamed throughout the course of events but the presence of him looms over with a heavy weight upon the present from the outset.


“I’m not frightened of God, only the ghosts in my life, not just the people that haunt us but what we inherit from our parents. Dead ideas, dead customs, dead morals. Ghosts looming up, they’re all over us smothering us as if we were buried alive in sand.” Helene Alving.

GhostsThroughout the play Mrs Alving, recalls her abusive and degrading marriage to her husband only to learn that Oswald (Jack Lowden) has inherited many of the same darker attributes of the man she once buried.

The setting and lighting throughout the production added to the claustrophobic tonality and heightened the great sense of isolation within the characters throughout the 90 minute course.

Ghosts plays upon some very profound themes and reveals in the contention between the rigidity of religious dogma and the rise of bohemian art and free thinking which is referred to as a radicalised force that can threaten the very foundations of the world in which these characters inhabit.

At the centre of the narrative the institution of marriage and it’s strangle hold upon women, which is definitely the essence of what drives Lesley Manville’s character forward. What saves her from becoming nothing more than a victimised product of her world is her tactful use of dialogue and ability to outmanoeuvre the constraints of her gender bound prison.

GhostsThis was represented particularly well as both her and the Pastor Manders whose conflict between duty and emotions spills out into many revelations within the play, giving rise to many of the plot twists and origins behind what led to this small array of characters going down the paths they are now on and more profoundly unable to change.

Oswald himself remains a compelling character through his anarchic qualities. The descent of madness in his character becomes accelerated through his connection to his love interest Regina, whose secret origins later are unveiled to disastrous consequences. The dialogue between him and his Mother during the final two scenes were acted so well, it certainly gave that hair on the back of your neck standing up effect.

GhostsThe tragedy that has befallen these characters and it’s ties to the past culminate into the final moments that certainly filled the jaw dropped room with a thick coated tension as the agonizing closure carried on for an uncomfortable amount of time with blood red lights shimmering throughout the stage.

The applause at the end from tonight’s show was strong and fierce as each character re assembled on stage. Top notch acting, believable characters and superb script writing made this a truly captivating experience that will be remembered for some time to come.

Most importantly, Lesley Manville’s acting in particular was one that should either see her hit the big screen in the near future if there is any justice in the world beyond tonight’s tragic events.

Extra dates have been added this week, so get your ticket here!