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Sins of the Father
A haunting female figure sits on a darkened stage, as the audience fills the stalls for opening night of Belvoir St Theatre's latest production. The figure is the imposing heroine of Eamon Flack's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's 19th Century play, Ghosts.
Mrs Helene Alving, played by acting powerhouse, Pamela Rabe, is a pressure-cooker of a character, existing in the shadows of her abusive husband's death, on an isolated estate in Norway. Bubbling below her reserved exterior is a volcano of doubt and derision for her society's ideals of marital and moral duty, all of which seem to subjugate women to the will of men.
Full of regret - Mrs Alving and The Pastor (photo credit Brett Boardman)
Misogyny and female oppression is an age-old story you might say but this play, set in 1881, was highly subversive in its day. Flash-forward over a century and issues of domestic violence and religious hypocrisy are still at the fore of public debate today. Thankfully though, we are more accepting of its cultural representation, through the arts. It is gratifying to see Director Eamon Flack, bringing justice to Ibsen's scathing social commentary, through a masterful and sensitive translation, brought to the modern stage.
The sins of Regine's father will revisit (photo credit Brett Boardman)
Ghosts might also be called 'The Sins of the Father'. It tells of the dramatic and tragic consequences of Mrs Alving and Pastor Manders' denial of their passion, acceptance of an abusive marriage and perpetuating the lie of the late Captain Alving, to maintain his public reputation. Just as her son Osvald returns home from years of life abroad in France, Mrs Alving hopes she may yet have a chance to clear her conscience, only to find that her husband's actions have far-reaching consequences for his heir.
The Pastor issues harsh judgement (photo credit Brett Boardman)
Sound dark? It is but there is nothing wrong with this and in fact, Flack's adaptation is written with elements of black comedy, to lighten the script's most troubling developments. This is a serious play, dealing with morally abhorrent subjects. It is also critical of the role the Church has played in dictating to the private affairs of married people; close to the bone if you consider the current marriage debate in Australia.
The truth will out (photo credit Brett Boardman)
If you're up for this kind of intense theatre experience, lightened in places by modern touches of black humour, then you will be well rewarded. Belvoir St Theatre in Surry Hills is synonymous with quality and the casting of theatre veterans Pamela Rabe and Robert Menzies (who plays the flawed Pastor) is a masterstroke for the production, which is carried by intelligent dialogue and emotionally charged scenes. The supporting cast also shines, with young award winners, Tom Conroy as the damaged Osvald Alving and Taylor Ferguson as the ambitious housemaid Regine Engstrand. Conroy, in particular, gets lost in his multi-dimensional character and as he takes his final bow, seems physically and emotionally spent, as does Rabe.
To complement the strong dramatic turns by the cast, staging and technical crew have delivered a remarkably evocative set, replete with flawless special effects, conjuring the cold, damp and shadowy world that the isolated characters inhabit. The idea of being haunted by the ghosts of the past is just as much conveyed by what is going on around the actors, making for an intriguing visual experience. It holds the audience's attention, throughout the one-hour forty-five-minute performance.
So, if you like your theatre thought-provoking and don't mind being confronted by uncomfortable issues, then I would recommend you catch a session of Ghosts. The sins of the past have a lot to teach us about our present and hopefully, open our minds to a better future.