Characterising Henrik Ibsen's 'Ghosts'
In the first read-through of the original text of this 19th century Ibsen play, translated from Danish, many of our actors were cowed by how dense and inaccessible the dialogue was. What exactly did Ibsen mean, and how on earth were we meant to make a 9-page scene between just two characters interesting and engaging to an audience?
Of course, the first step was to update and modernise this text. No easy feat, but Elemental Theatre Company’s Tom Morley rose to the challenge, delicately but dynamically transporting the fractured Alving family, the impulsive Engstrand family, and their dubious vicar Father Manders, all the way from 1881 to 2019.
This problem had been solved, but, for our actors, a new challenge emerged. These characters might talk the way we talk, know our references and our pop culture, but they’re still tied down by the logic and morals of the 1800s. How could we, as actors, transform our characters into modern people, while still keeping the integrity of who these characters were?
Like most solutions, the answer lay in trial and error. It’s no secret that none of our cast were able to immediately jump right into the show with a fully-formed character - that’s simply not how acting works. Over a series of experimental rehearsals, lengthy discussions, and personal brainstorming sessions, each of us were able to carve out characters that, simply put, felt right.
In one rehearsal, we argued over exactly what Mrs Alving thought of her late husband Captain Alving, who never even appears onstage - did she ever really love him? In another, we each got into character and improvised insults directed towards each other. I, as the actor playing Oswald, have a little notebook covered in tiny, illegible scribbling thanks to the time I spent working through exactly why, basically, he was such an unlikeable git. What is it that could make a young, artistic, well-travelled student so virulently cruel to those around him?
The time spent on this was worth it! Mrs Alving, played by the talented Paula Heeley, had more depth than the highly-strung widow we first met on the page - now whip-smart and bitter, while still maintaining the essence of the character that Ibsen intended. Likewise, Chris Stevenson’s Father Manders transformed from a corrupt villain into a highly moral man who genuinely believed he was doing the right thing, with every barbed comment he made.
This might be a modern adaptation but our iPhone-wielding, Alexa-using ensemble still have the fascinating essence of character Ibsen intended! We can’t wait to see you at the John Godber Centre, Hucknall, on the 15th and 20th of September for our ruthlessly honest, no-holds-barred show all about family, faith and corruption.
Doors open at 7pm, show begins at 7.30. You can get your tickets for £5 on the door or at www.seaty.co.uk/ghosts
- Ezra Fiddimore