Ghosts at The Rose Theatre, Kingston – review

Mark Quartley and Kelly Hunter in Ghosts

Mark Quartley and Kelly Hunter in Ghosts - Credit: Archant

Duty, guilt and the parent-child relationship all come under the spotlight at the Rose Theatre this autumn, thanks to the English Touring Theatre’s powerful production of Ibsen’s Ghosts, translated and directed by Stephen Unwin, who marks his final season as the Rose’s Artistic Director this year.

Ghosts isn’t the easiest of plays to watch, delving as it does into some of humanity’s deepest, darkest emotional corners. A devoted mother, driven by her love for her son to conceal his father’s significant faults and failings from him is at first overjoyed by her son’s return home from living as a painter in Paris, then aghast and guilt-ridden as the true reasons for his prodigal return are revealed. Kelly Hunter tears at the heartstrings as Mrs Alving, whose sense of duty to her ‘debauched’ husband gives way ten years after his death to a compulsion to tell the truth about him, whatever the personal cost.

Hunter’s dramatic portrayal is aided and abetted by Mark Quarterly, who, as her troubled, syphilitic son, Osvald, erupts in nervous energy every time he paces the stage, unable to sit still or slow down at all until the shocking end when he is claimed by his devastating illness.

Such unfettered emotions between mother and son are tempered only by the calmer demeanour of the duty-bound Pastor Manders (Patrick Drury), whose strangely uneasy mix of hypocrisy and naïveté reveals his innate weakness. Adding comic relief is Pip Donaghy’s scheming carpenter, Jacob Engstrand, whose determination to open a hostel for sailors needs two things: the pastor’s approval and his pretty daughter’s welcoming arms to greet his future guests.

The young lady in question, Regina (Florence Hall), has no intention of leaving what she perceives to be a pretty plum position in Mrs Alving’s service, until the play’s shocking events cause her to rethink her high aspirations and throw in her lot with the wily old man.

The entire play takes place in one room: an elegant, understated drawing room that seems totally at odds with the wild, unstoppable drama unfolding within it. Designer Simon Higlett took inspiration from original sketches by Edvard Munch and emphasises the gloom and isolation of the remote location with a wide backdrop, obscured by driving rain for most of the play, but clearing into a beautiful sunrise as the story reaches its climax.

Ghosts is not for the faint-hearted, but it certainly offers much food for thought, and this fine retelling of Ibsen’s once reviled play loses nothing in Unwin’s attempts to bring the dialogue up to date. The play is boldly directed, beautifully designed and superbly acted, creating the perfect swansong for Unwin as he bids goodbye to the Rose Theatre and moves on to the next stage of his directing career.

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Ghosts runs at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 12 October and then tours nationally. Tickets can be booked online at