Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Richard Eyre

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Drama on 3 on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 15 December 2013, BBC Podcasts 19-26 December 2013
Restaged on Radio 3 after successful runs at the Almedia Theatre and Trafalgar Studios, London, Ghosts was a fascinating piece that together with Margaret Oliphant'a Hester (broadcast a week later on Radio 4) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper (adapted by 19 Nocturne Boulevard and reviewed recently on, offered a fascinating commentary on gender relationships and social taboos at the end of the nineteenth century.
Structurally speaking, Eyre's production had strong links to melodrama in its use of continuing revelations about the past lives of Helene Alving (Lesley Manville), her son Oswald (Jack Lowden).  Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that we discovered that Mrs. Alving's marriage was nothing more than a sham, while Oswald ended up having to disclose at least two disturbing secrets about his health.  Such revelations proved shocking, even unbearable for Pastor Manders (Will Keen), a pillar of the community, whose conceptions of religion and its place in the community were severely challenged.
This melodramatic surface provided the pretext for Eyre to make a searching analysis of the position of women in late nineteenth century society.  Manville's Mrs. Alving had clearly decided not to observe social conventions, believing them to be outmoded and restrictive, especially where issues of female expression were concerned.  Ordinarily speaking, to be a good wife meant looking after one's husband and suppressing one's desires; but what use was that when Mr. Alving was nothing more than an alcoholic and a lecher?  Manville delivered her lines with the kind of steely conviction that brooked no argument, especially from a social conservative like Manders.
However it was one of the ironies of Eyre's production that Mrs. Alving's sense of security was deliberately upset by her son's revelations.  The ghosts of the past returned to haunt her; and ultimately challenge her sense of self-belief as a mother and a woman.  Eyre offered no answer to this dilemma; rather he suggested that Mrs. Alving should just try to live on her own terms, while realizing that such terms could be readily destroyed.  The only way to survive was to learn how to adapt to changed situations, even if that meant contemplating Oswald's imminent death.
This revival of Ghosts was quite simply spell-binding; brilliantly performed by the five-strong cast (including Charlotte McKenna and Brian McCardle) and restaged by Eyre from his original stage production, offering new insights into a play whose subject-matter continues to shock, even though it is now one hundred and thirty one years since its first performance.