Ghosts

20 May

On Saturday night, I went along to the Sydney University Drama Society production of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, and very much enjoyed it.

In the 1880’s, when it was first produced, Ghosts caused quite a scandal because of its discussion of sexually transmitted infections. To our standards, the discussion might appear subtle to the point of non-existence, but then again, a lot of modern theatre makers would feel the need to present the audience with a scene showing precisely how the characters got the STI in the first place.

Ghosts

This production, directed by Finn Davis, plays to the strengths of student theatre. Despite the characters ranging in age from early twenties to at least mid forties, all the actors are young. And they do good work. Diana Reid’s vocal work is particularly impressive. (However, the production as a whole would benefit from a more textured pace.) The set by Kryssa Karavolas is a beautifully simple white box, with an impressive (but suitably understated) mural on the upstage wall, exorcising the production of any alienating naturalism. The nineteenth century is evoked only gently by costuming.

The impact of all this is to prevent the play becoming trapped in its original context.

The characters talk a lot about ‘reputation’ and ‘duty’, and the easy way to deal with this challenge might be to dismiss such stuff as rather quaint. But a stripped back production like this makes that a difficult avoidance strategy to implement. Admittedly, reputation in the nineteenth century often hinged on one’s sexual behaviour, but an obsession with how we’re perceived by others is hardly a demon we’ve slain. And the renaming of vices as virtues (in the play ‘cowardice’ is rebranded as ‘duty’) is a life-denying habit that still haunts us.

Veronica Kaye

Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Monisha Rudhran  

Studio B,  Sydney University, til 24 May

http://sudsusyd.com/whats-on/ghosts/

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