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Review: Keepsake at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Review: The gobsmackingly good Ghosts at Trafalgar Studios

Lesley Manville and Jack Lowden in Ghosts

Had a ticket for Ghosts when it was at the Almeida but transport problems meant I didn't make it to the theatre in time, so it was a sign from the theatre gods when some front row seats appeared in the ATG  Boxing Day ticket sale.

And, it was certainly worth the price of the second ticket. Ghosts is an emotional train wreck of a play that had me not so much holding my breath but holding in my emotions to the point where I felt almost overwhelmed at the release of the curtain call.

Richard Eyre, who also directs, has pared down the original Ibsen play to 90 minutes and while intimate in its timeline and plot it covers big and powerful themes such as class, patriarchy, moral hypocrisy and even euthanasia.

The Ghosts of the title are an idea protagonist Helene (Lesley Manville) refers to in that you can never truly overcome the trials and tribulations of the past, they inevitably circle back to haunt you.

Helene is getting her life back 10-years after the death of her alcoholic and philandering husband. Her beloved son Oswald (Jack Lowden) has returned home after a long absence - sent away as protection from his father's behaviour. She is in many ways a forward-thinking, independent and proactive woman who walks the boundary of what society will accept but doesn't quite have the courage to step over it. Her ghosts, her decision to return to her husband, her husbands behaviour, sending her son away and hiding the truth behind her maid Regina's parentage (Charlene McKenna) all prove her tragic un-doing.

Ghosts is an acting masterclass from Lesley Manville and the supporting cast. Helene is a complex character and Manville conveys her inner struggles with a raw delicacy. McKenna is a feisty Regina struggling with the two worlds she's been brought up in, seeking independence but conscious of the restraints a patriarchal society places on her.

Lowden's Oswald is at first all bohemian charm from his life among artists, with a world view that so mirrors his mother's own. However, his mother's ghosts and his own have followed him and resulted in an illness that is physically and mentally crippling him.

There is a cleverness and depth to all of Ibsen's characters. Regina's father Jacob (Brian McCardie) is an alcoholic carpenter with ambition and enough wile to fulfil it. And Pastor Manders (Adam Kotz) - probably the most controversial character being the hypocritical man of God, adviser to Helene and the object of her affection.

Ghosts is meaty in its subject matter, rich in emotional range, beautifully staged and leaves its mark. A knock out start to 2014's theatre-going. It runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 8 March.


Lesley Manville was in All About My Mother at the Old Vic in which Colin Morgan also appeared. Mr W is currently killing Colin nightly in Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre.