More than a century on from its first UK performance, the task of pulling Ibsen’s controversial classic into the modern day is not insignificant.
Yet Polly Findlay’s production shines from the first moment with intrigue, tension and duplicity.
Findlay’s direction works in a remarkable way that combines naturalism and visual metaphor throughout the piece: each sideways glance, each sip of wine, each peel of a potato seems charged with a depth of meaning beyond its natural place in this disintegrating home.
There is a beautiful subtlety to the production, from the ominous empty chair teetering on the edge of the stage to the Francophile longing of Norah Lopez Holden as Regine, every prop onstage and each second of performance has a wealth of motive and understanding behind it.
The outstanding performance, however, is undoubtedly Niamh Cusack as Helen Alving, the widow of the debauched Captain who haunts the action of the play.
WONDER TO BEHOLD: Niamh Cusack shines in HOME’s modern adaptation of Ibsen’s classic
Cusack’s frantic natural energy is a true wonder to behold as she tries to pull together the strings of her disparate roles as mother, guardian, lover, and widow.
Ken Nwosu must also be commended for the strength and variety of his performance as Osvald, one of several inheritors of grief from Captain Alving’s actions in life.
He transforms from boyish bravado to a moving vulnerability that places him at the centre of the ultimate tragedy.
David Watson’s adaptation of the script can take much of the plaudits for these transitions in character and audience sympathy.
He pulls Ibsen’s words into the new modern setting with ease so that even when modern language is used, there is no sense of it jarring with the original plot.
Though the dialogue of his adaptation acts as a bridge between the Victorian plot and contemporary setting, certain aspects of the action onstage do demand a certain suspension of disbelief with regard to modern medical treatment with the incongruous prestige of the local pastor in the contemporary setting.
These are criticisms that are not easily overcome however given the nature of the plot.
The set, devised by acclaimed German designer Johannes Schütz, juts out into the stalls in a way that confuses perspective through sharp angles, closing doors and unseen spaces, all adding to the sense of claustrophobia within this isolated abode.
And Franz Peter David’s lighting design must also be commended for moments of astonishing beauty, the cool, seemingly natural, light shimmering off the actors’ faces in a way that made them at times seem truly ghostly.
Coherent and impressive modern adaptations of Ibsen do not come along often, especially in a play like Ghosts.
But this HOME production is certainly that: calm, confident and quietly devastating, the final moments between Nwosu and Cusack will remain haunt the audience for some time.