Monday, 2 November 2009

Ghosts - The Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Translator: Henrik Ibsen
Director: David Thacker
Reviewer: John Roberts

David Thacker in his inaugural season at the Bolton Octagon has already received high praise for his first production of Arthur Miller’s All My Son’s, Which I was highly disappointed to miss, so I made sure I personally went along to Ghosts.

Thacker is no stranger to this text, having directed what is critical known as the most famous production of the play in 1986 starring Venessa Redgrave and Tom Wilkinson, winning numerous awards including the highly regarded holy grail of British theatre, The Olivier.

Written in 1881, Ghosts caused quite a stir amongst theatre goers as did Ibsen's production of A Doll’s House. Ghosts tackles some of the biggest taboos of society – incest, affairs and corruption. After the death of her roaming husband, Mrs Alving seeks the support of Pastor Mander’s a long term friend and spiritual advisor to help set up an orphanage using her husband’s wealth. Oswald Alving her son fresh from living in France where he caught Syphilis, seeks refuge and companionship in housemaid Regina, a surprise to all around them, as the ghosts of the past come to haunt each and every one and brings the play to its heady climax.

So is Thacker’s second production (and the hardest to get right) a hit? Unfortunately not, this production leaves one feeling numb and actually rather cold. One can see the reasons behind programming Ghosts using the same cast and set (which is beautifully realised by Patrick Connellan and lit wonderfully by James Farncombe,) as All My Son’s as there are real strong links between the two, but this is ultimately it's Achilles Heel and downfall of this production.

Thacker has made some very bizarre choices with this production. The first is the overtly sexual poster image for the production, which sets off the wrong tone from the offset. Setting the production in a metaphorical Lancashire area does nothing for the production or the text but brings an uneven balance to the evening’s proceedings. Overall Thacker’s direction is a little sombre and uneventful, with little movement or energy throughout making this production of just under two hours feel like a lot longer.
George Irving as Pastor Manders was inexcusably all over the place, grasping for his next line in a speedy and mumbled performance. Margot Leicester as Helena Alving fails to bring colour and reflection to the difficult role, but instead finds her feet firmly rooted in the monotone.

Saving grace performances come from the smaller roles in the production, Oscar Pearce as Oswald, has bags of energy and charisma, whilst Vanessa Kirby as maid Regina is wonderfully sharp and jovial, but it is the performance of Russell Richardson as Jacob who provides the most stable and consistent performance of the evening, but even these couldn’t save the lacklustre direction and overall feel of the production.

Is the new Artistic Director stretching himself a little too thin? Will this uneventful and slightly shameful production push more people away from what has so far been an excellent season? Is this the sign of things to come? One can only hope that this is not the case as I really do have a soft spot for the Octagon, it is one of the friendliest warm and welcoming theatres in the North West, and has one of the most varied and promising seasons around, but this reviewer is putting this production in the back of his mind and focussing on what is yet to come!

Photos: Ian Tilton
Runs until sat 21st Nov
frontpage hit counter