Social Buttons

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Context: Ghosts

Uncouth family relations. Malicious infections. Upended Victorian mores. Considered shockingly indecent when it premiered in 1882, Ghosts haunts the BAM Harvey Theater April 5—May 3. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of articles, interviews, and videos related to the production. Once you've seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below

Program Notes

Ghosts (PDF)

Related Event

Ghosts with Richard Eyre (Thu, Apr 9 at 6 PM)
Director Richard Eyre discusses his “powerfully intimate” (The Observer) adaptation of Ibsen’s masterpiece and the process of finding new relevance for audiences today with New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar.


Haunting Ghosts (BAM blog)
Alicia Dhyana House traces Ibsen's trajectory from radical Norwegian playwright to the “Father of Modern Drama.”

Study Guide
Ghosts (BAM Education)
With a wealth of background information, this guide created for our high school audiences will also help adults engage more deeply with the production.

Ibsen and Munch—What’s the Connection? (BAM blog)
Besides being giants of Norwegian culture, Ibsen and Munch shared a psychologically-rigorous, aesthetically-exacting artistic practice.

Lesley Manville as the Unhappy Heroine of ‘Ghosts’ (The New York Times)
Learn why the Ghosts star "is willing to embark upon paths many an actor would balk at.”

In the Spirit of Ibsen (The Guardian)
Director Richard Eyre dishes on Ibsen's life, Sarah Kane, and how all acts of adaptation leave a trace of authorial presence

Rehearsal Diaries (Almeida Theater)
Track Assistant Director Gaby Dellal's rehearsal experience during the initial run of Ghosts at the Almeida Theater in fall 2013.

A Word with Lighting Designer Peter Mumford (Almeida Theater)
"It’s like painting and editing at the same time, 'painting' to create an atmosphere both physical and psychological and 'editing' to create a sense of time and focus, telling the viewer what to look at."

A Word with Set Designer Tim Hatley (Almeida Theater)
"I immediately imagined a dark house, closed off from the world, whose walls knew the truth behind them."

Look & Listen

Lesley Manville – 14 Actors Acting (The New York Times Magazine)
Behold the dynamic, nuanced genius of the Ghosts star in this short clip from 2010.

Poems that Make Grown Men Cry: Richard Eyre (National Theatre)
The Ghosts director delivers a heartfelt interpretation of Douglas Dunn's Sandra's Mobile.

Now your turn...

So how did you enjoy the show? Likes? Dislikes? Surprises? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below.


  1. A truly magnificent evening of theatre . . . Superb and not to be missed.

  2. Curious about the portrayal of syphilis I found this.

  3. I love Ibsen and the lead actors were excellent in their roles. Lighting and setting really intensified effect with the reflection/screen dynamic. My problem is with the direction of the play. The problematic first act, which is filled with exposition to prepare for the third act, was particularly static. Two talking heads. The choreography doesn't prepare for the repressed eroticism between them (one of the secrets that keeps them connected and gives him dimension). I also worried about the use of so much volume in the voices as a means of creating drama. The director chose overstatement, but rage and suffering have interior and gestural elements as well. So instead of emotion, through too much of the play we get shouting. The Almeida is a great production company so perhaps this seems like blasphemy, but I don't think this is their best production. And there were some bumps in the translation too when it labored to be contemporary. Some jarring diction.

  4. It is a melodramatic play so there is no way to be subtle. And fortunately the volume of delivery overcame the simply awful acoustics of the Harvey Theater so that one could actually hear and understand (except for the first scene between "father" and daughter which was so heavily dialect that it was difficult to comprehend the words). The complete lack of sexuality in the pastor makes it hard to imagine this vibrant and passionate woman being attracted to him but they were excellent in their portrayals nonetheless. The only point that requires a complete disregard of fact is the "transmission" of syphilis from father to son. It has to be exposure in utero from an infected mother and if she had contracted the disease over two decades ago she would be the completely disabled one which she is not. Other than accepting this as the literary device of illuminating "the sins of the father ..." how can this be made sensible?

  5. I would agree with the April 15 anonymous post especially as to the difficulty of comprehending the dialogue between "father" and daughter in the first scene. However, one simply has to accept that medical knowledge in 1880 was less advanced than ours and that inheriting syphilis from one's father was the belief at the time. In that light it didn't bother me at all.

  6. Why isn't Lesley Manville world famous?

  7. I, too had trouble with the directing. The acting overall was entirely too overwrought for my taste; the actor's hurled around the stage as if it were a fiercely contested athletic competition. Several were literally foaming at the mouth with rage.

  8. I saw the movie a long while ago, and this was better, more emotional impactful and made clear the self destructive mores and ethics of 100 years ago in isolated Norway.

  9. Excellent set, able actors but adaptation and direction not up to par.

  10. I love Ibsen, and was blown away by this play, which I knew nothing about beforehand. A couple of minor points, however.
    I heard, via dialogue that the heroine had been in love with the pastor, and that it had taken all his willpower to reject her. However, I felt none of his repressed, simmering passion. She was passionate; he was not. He needs to display more of his sensuous, erotic side which lured her in the first place. Right now, he is a shocked moralizer.
    Also, at first I had a hard time understanding the dialect, although I adapted after a bit. Would have preferred if the actors gave a more American pronunciation to some of their words, so I could focus on the content of the play itself.
    Finally, it is only in reading these comments that I got that the son suffered from the then lethal disease of syphilis. I thought he had epilepsy. The disease has to be made explicit, with the word syphilis added once or twice to the dialogue. (Or did someone mention it, but I did not get the pronunciation?)
    Overall, an excellent play - and I particularly salute the lead actress, Lesley Manville. Bravo!

  11. What a great evening and a stirring play! The elaborate set design made an immediate strong first impression on me. This was amplified and deepened by first-class acting by all hands. Ibsen's portrait of societal turmoil focused here in this small group (adherence to duty vs. passion, immorality vs. virtue, reverence for appearances, vs. transparancy) seems contemporary and fresh over a hundred years after its creation. The harrowing last scene hangs in my mind as I'm going through my day today. The program notes from Richard Eyre are quite helpful in enriching my appreciation of the play and its standing in Ibsen's ouvre. Thanks to BAM and all the players!

  12. I saw the April 10 staging of this play and I found it to be riveting. Lesley Manville was a huge part of that, as was the compelling story. I sometimes hesitate to see Ibsen plays at BAM because they present them pretty often, and sometimes they seem repetitive. Not so for this one. I am happy I did not know a lot about the play before I saw it, so that I was surprised by the unfolding of events. I really appreciated the program notes and the links here on the blog for rounding out the experience. The set design with the transparent, ghost-like walls was brilliant and the acting overall was wonderful. I agree, however, that the Pastor was portrayed as so flat and repressed that I couldn’t imagine him being inflamed with passion. The final moments were a bit melodramatic, and I was curious if this really was how syphilis manifests itself. (Suzanne England’s link to the Ibsen Society of America piece illuminated that perhaps it was pretty accurate after all.) This particular Ibsen play especially made remote upper class Norway of the late 1800's come alive for me, and I could totally see why this play was so controversial back then. It also made me glad I did not happen to live in that time and place.

  13. Mesmerizing! Thank's for bringing this stunning production across the Pond!

  14. I agree with pretty well all the foregoing comments, some of which show an insight which I missed. I should like to add three points. Firstly, the repeated criticism of the pastor's coldness can be justified as Ibsen's criticism of hypocritical religious beliefs, suppressed sexuality and dramatic effect by means of contrast. Secondly, the conclusion of the play gave the impression of a playwright who was running out of time and had to compress into a very short time frame the drama of the orphanage fire and the treatment of the euthanasia question. Thirdly, I watched the play from the Gods where the acoustics were excellent but the seating exquisitely uncomfortable. I was surprised by the choice of Irish accents at the beginning which tapered off later and I understand why they have been criticized. I could follow them, but I am not American - my American partner had difficulty.

  15. Very poignant and beautiful! The acting was spot on and the set design was a marvel to look at even in its simplicity.
    The story, obviously, was from a time past but can still resonant with today as ghosts never truly go away.

  16. Great play but I would agree: the director preferred noisy delivery over gesture and/or silence - which I thought was a little disappointing. Same as for the Doll's House production last year, I felt there was a lack of understanding of the Norwegian culture to make it ring true.
    Aside from understanding the accents themselves in the first scene, I question the use of an Irish accent in a remote place in Norway. A little out of place.
    Other than that, acting was excellent as well as the set, light and sound design.

  17. I pretty much agree with most of the reviewers. I would add that seeing live theater has its own merits. I would like, though, to say that until BAM replaces those awful orchestra seats, you will not see us. I hope the summer renovation includes replacing them.

  18. I loved the show. Please get an elevator!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the show! We hear you. The Harvey Theater elevator does give access to the upper orchestra and we’re definitely looking to extend elevator access to the gallery in the future. In the meantime, you can look forward to a total refurbishment of the Harvey Theater gallery, including new seats, for the 2015 Next Wave Festival.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.