Review: Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida theatre

Lesley Manville as Helene Alving and Jack Lowden as Oswald Alving.  Photo Hugo Glendinning

Lesley Manville as Helene Alving and Jack Lowden as Oswald Alving. Photo Hugo Glendinning

Between new plays and Shakespeare performed in modern dress, it seems it’s only the late nineteenth century playwrights who are performed in period setting any more (the odd production by Benedict Andrews notwithstanding). All joking aside, there is a special challenge – but also revelation – when the period setting comes alive to carry the heart of the play in a timeless way.

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida, adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, is such a pleasure. The story of a family in the course of an evening, when five people are connected in different – sometime unexpected – ways and the ghosts of the past strangle the present. It’s not other people’s but one’s choices that haunt the play. And that ultimate crime of all, to be untrue to one’s self.

The production has simplicity and confidence and a rare unhurried richness. Set and lighting are grave but not dour. If joy is in short supply in this place, it is vividly suggested that it lives elsewhere and people can – and should – find it for the salvation of their souls. The wood and glass and tapestry of the set are like a magic mirror – unbearable one moment, warm and comforting the next. Continue reading

Review: Quartermaine’s Terms, by Simon Gray, at the Wyndhams (starring Rowan Atkinson)

Rowan Atkinson as St John Quartermaine. Photo by Nobby Clark.

Rowan Atkinson as St John Quartermaine. Photo by Nobby Clark.

“I mean these things between people – people one cares for – it’s hard to bear them“. In the middle of the play, this words uttered by St John Quartermaine, land like a bomb. Quickly the moment passes. Most other characters try not to feel, and only care up to a point, they have considerations, alliances, careers, plans to distract them.  St John Quartermaine, played by Rowan Atkinson, has nothing but the staff room at this English school for foreigners.

Simon Gray’s play, written more than 30 years ago, is set in the fringes of Cambridge academia. Tweed jackets, heavy bookcases, leather chairs and croquet, but also frustration as none of these professors play with the big boys. In many other ways, it’s a depressingly modern workplace. Co-workers talk of lifelong friendships and bonds between them, but time and again practicalities get in the way.  Efficiency marches in, the weakest links are cut loose. Leave any man behind. Continue reading