Review: Ibsen's perfect tale of happy families gets a lively telling in Leamington

The play ' rips apart the veneer of middle-class respectability'
The play ' rips apart the veneer of middle-class respectability'

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Ghosts at the Loft Theatre, Leamington

Set in a remote part of Norway in the mid-19th century, Ibsen’s play, Ghosts rips apart the veneer of middle-class respectability.

Mrs Alving (Julie Godfrey) is a widow. She has created an image of her late husband as a paragon of virtue, whereas in truth he was nothing of the kind. Her motives were to preserve her dignity and to protect her son Oswald (Janeks Babidorics), whom she sent away as a young child to avoid the scenes she endured at home.

Now he is back, after having lived as a bohemian, in Paris. His return coincides with the opening of an orphanage by Mrs Alving, a last gesture to preserve the lie, which she has done under the tutelage of Pastor Manders (Robert Lowe), a whispering snake who ensures she upholds the codes of moral probity, regardless of the cost. Throw in a doomed love match between Oswald and Mrs Alving’s maid Regina (Leigh Walker) and the tragi-comic relief of Jacob Engstrand (Jeremy Heynes) and you have the ingredients for a perfect tale of unhappy families.

Perhaps we’ve become so used to such things in soap operas that we forget how much Ibsen’s work has influenced our notions of the family. This is a play full of impassioned speeches that blur the distinctions between right and wrong, much of which is still relevant today. Women are still blamed for the shortcomings of men, still carry the can in many domestic tragedies.

Great works of art can seem overstuffed, but in Rob Lowe’s adaptation this is an unswerving analysis of the family that is lively, sharp and deeply moving.

* Ghosts runs until Saturday April 7. Visit loft-theatre.co.uk to book.