Apparently the premiere of Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts took place in Chicago on May 20th 1882, at the Aurora Turner Hall.
It was the first time an Ibsen play was performed in the United States. The actors were mostly Norwegian and Danish amateurs; the play was performed in Norwegian for Scandinavian immigrants.
Nine years later in London it was, according to the Pall Mall Gazette, it was described as “an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly, cominmg just two years after critics had denounced his Doll’s House for its vulgar untruths .
Well in 2016, it is coming to Manchester’s Home theatre, a revamped version by David Watson, directed by Polly Findlay, whose reputation has been established with acclaim for her work at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, Sheffield Crucible, and the Royal Exchange Theatre.
For those who don’t the plot, we won’t spoil it suffice to say that this domestic drama which happens to one family on one day has lies and home truths that have been carried for years are mixed in with revelations of with of Premarital sex, religious protest and a dysfunctional marriage.To the Victorian audience it’s immorality was often too much but today many of its issues are an accepted part of modern life.
Making the play relevant to the twenty first century audience is one problem that Polly Findlay will have to deal with but she tells us actually how modern it is, the web of lies and the difficulties of entangling them as the play progresses is as relevant today as it was in those late Victorian times.
Niamh Cusack takes on the role of Helen Alving, her character living with a dilemma borne out of a deep-held secret – her long- deceased husband was perceived as a pillar of the community, respected as much as he was liked for being a loving husband and adoring father. However, in reality, he was a philandering adulterer.
She decides, to honour and preserve his memory, to open an orphanage, but her real motivation is not quite so noble. As Helen and her son, Oswald, are putting together the finishing touches to the orphanage, she confides in the family pastor, Manders, what her husband was really like. As long-buried family secrets are revealed, the reasons for her seemingly selfless gesture become brutally apparent.
Cusack’s mostr recent notable roles include Siobhan in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for Marianne Elliot, Paulina in The Winter’s Tale for Michael Longhurst at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, and Juno in Juno and the Paycock in Gemma Bodinetz’s production at Bristol Old Vic. She is also is well known to TV viewers from her much-loved role as Kate Rowan in Heartbeat.
Niamh’s son Oswald, a painter, will be played by Ken Nwosu, who since graduating from the Drama Centre in London in 2013 has appeared in a number of major London productions for Polly Findlay, most recently in The Alchemist at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and As You Like It at the National Theatre.
Pastor Manders will be played by Jamie Ballard, described by The Observer in 2010 as one of the ‘10 best Hamlets of all time’. His most recent credit was the title role in the Bard’s King John at the Rose Theatre for Trevor Nunn. Last year he was Antonio in The Merchant of Venice in Polly Findlay’s RSC production.
Regine Engstrand, Helen’s maid, will be played by Norah Lopez Holden, who was born in Madrid but grew up in Oldham. Holden graduated from RADA this year having appeared in a student production of Ferdinand Bruckner’s Pains of Youth,directed by Findlay.
Tickets for Ghosts are on sale now – homemcr.org/ghosts.
The play runs from the 18th November until 3rd December