The original uncompromising Nordic Noir

Ever willing to take on a challenge, Seaford-based Synergy Theatre staged this controversial Henrik Ibsen play in the cosy village hall of Kingston, near Lewes.

Monday, 11th April 2016, 2:52 pm
Updated Monday, 11th April 2016, 2:57 pm

A more unlikely venue for a play which when first performed in 1891 caused a Victorian critic to comment “An open drain, the sort of play that requires ammonia”, presumably referring to the smelling salts needed to revive members of the audience who passed out in disgust, would be difficult to find.

But with incest, sexually transmitted disease, infidelity, arson and euthanasia, as regular fare on the small screen in family living rooms over a century later, perhaps there should no longer be any reason to be shocked. Yet old reactions still persist. Such is the power of Ibsen’s writing. In this new and perceptive translation by Norwegian linguist and director, David Parton, it was possible to watch the ‘sins of our fathers visited upon their sons’ in all its painful truthfulness enacted on Kingston’s tiny stage. He also fast-forwards the action from late 19th century Norway to the ‘Roaring Twenties’. This perceptive twist highlights the time when Europe was adjusting itself to new forms of morality and hedonism in the wake of the awfulness of the First World War.

The ‘Ghosts’ in the title are not the spooky sort in vogue at Hallowe’en but more the echoes of the past which, appropriately enough, but in another context, is the theme of 2016 Oscar-winning film ‘The Revenant’. Ibsen, however, introduces an additional element to his play, that of the sanctimonious piety of the established church which turns a blind eye to happenings behind closed doors. And where has that been heard before? Plus ca change.

In a remote village on Norway’s coastline, Mrs Helene Alving (Josie Hobbs), and her housemaid, Regine Engstrand (Emily Barlow), are preparing a ceremony to open a new orphanage dedicated to her late husband and local worthy, Captain Alving. But Regine’s partially disabled father, Jakob (Peter Linsdell), takes the opportunity to hint at skeletons lurking in the family cupboard. Family priest, Pastor Manders (John Hamilton), although wringing his hands in hypocritical angst, tries to paper-over the ever-widening family cracks. These become even more obvious when Alving’s prodigal son, Osvald (Chris Church), returns home after twenty years but with an incurable congenital disease from which he is dying. He also falls for Regine not realising that she is, in fact, his half-sister.

This was an imaginative ensemble production of a timeless play with which Synergy enhanced its reputation as an amateur group never afraid to attempt the thought-provoking. ‘Nordic Noir’, increasingly popular in other fields of drama, personified. By Roger Paine.