Overwrought and underwhelming, the MTC’s Ghosts is as haunting as the Luna Park ghost train, but not as fun.
The 1880s critics generally despised Henrik Ibsen’s play for being a pit of degenerate ickiness that dared to talk about nice middle class people knowing about syphilis, sex and incest.
Widowed 40-something Helene Alving (Linda Cropper) is thrilled to have her 20-something son, Oswald (Ben Pfeiffer), back home from Paris, and is excited that her old crush, Pastor Manders (Philip Quast), is visiting to bless and open the orphanage she built in honour of her late husband. Meanwhile her maid, Regina (Pip Edwards), is leaning français to impress Oswald and Regina’s dad, Jacob (Richard Piper), wants Regina to work at his new house for wandering seamen.
Gale Edwards’s translation so simplifies (and Aussifies) the script that the seamen pun is a highlight in a tale that now states the obvious, explains it a bit more and yells it again. And it’s directed by Edwards to focus on that translated script.
In performances described to me as “a bit shouty” (I said over played and under felt, but shouty is better), it relies on its words to tell the story. Words tell a story in a novel, on a stage they are the base to start from.
To find the emotional connection with the world and its characters, there has to be a belief and understanding on the stage that sex outside of a good-god sanctified marriage is unforgivable. Unless we can understand and feel that, all that’s left is a “so what?”. Even the final scene between breaking mother and broken son are close to dull because there was no relationship in the space between the actors.
At least Shaun Gurton’s striking design of rain and fog creates some mood and sense of place with Paul Jackson’s lighting.
Perhaps the 1880s critics might have liked it.