This adaptation of Ghosts is a strange little play - with the emphasis firmly on “little”. Billed at a compact 45 minutes, on the night I attended it clocked in at just 35, and only made that slender running-time with the aid of extended scene changes and pauses. Since Ibsen’s original is a full three-act play, it follows that it tells just a fraction of the story, pared down to two characters - plus a third who’s in the house, but never appears on-stage.
In many ways, the radical abridgement works rather well. The plot thread they’ve chosen has plenty of modern resonance; there’s a clergyman who’s a little too concerned for a member of his congregation, a woman who’s suffered an abusive marriage, frequent questions of equality and control. And by scaling the production back to a two-hander, the adaptation throws focus onto their relationship, and the complex power-play we see unfold between them.
But it doesn’t quite hang together. A dramatic moment from a sub-plot is promoted to become the finale - but it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense without the story that normally surrounds it, and it left much of the audience obviously confused about whether the play was actually over. The glacial pace delivers some contemplative moments, but this isn’t a particularly contemplative script; if anything, it’s a sharply ironic one. My prevailing impression was of something insubstantial, that too much of Ibsen’s work had been cut away for the remainder to stand up on its own.
Protagonist Mrs Alving is nicely drawn, with a sense of spark and playfulness that’s been kept in check for far too long. But I wasn’t entirely convinced by her foil Pastor Manders; there’s a fine line between repression and woodenness, and I didn’t feel I’d had much of a chance to understand or interpret him.
The company deserve a lot of credit for a bold, interesting experiment, and their radical adaptation remains true to the concept they selected for it. But in the end, sadly, I think they’ve just abridged too far.