Updating Ibsen's "Ghosts"
Updated: Feb 13, 2021
Ibsen’s “Ghosts” was written in the 1880s, where it initially drew lots of criticism for the way it deals with various taboo subjects. The story is set in a Norwegian manor, and begins with the maid, Regine, dusting the room and arranging flowers in a vase.
Elemental Theatre’s “Ghosts” begins in a very different way, set in a modern English country house, with the lodger, Rachel, vacuuming whilst bopping along to some pop song that is being played by an Alexa.
When we initially sat down to read “Ghosts”, we were expecting the language to feel old, and the story to feel dated, as you would with any piece of “classical theatre”. However, the story feels very modern, and at lots of points in the play, it is almost like reading the script for an episode of Eastenders. Hence, the idea to update “Ghosts”, and set it in 2019, was born.
Some of these changes are purely superficial. The documents brought by Father Manders to the Alving’s house are no longer paper copies – they are stored on a laptop. Emails are exchanged between characters rather than letters. The bar that Engstrand wants to set up is for famous footballers and popstars, rather than sailors and captains. This does not really change the story in any major way.
Other parts of the story needed more thinking about. The character of Regine (Rachel in our piece) has gone through the biggest transformation. In the original play, she is the Alvings’ housemaid, and whilst she has a pivotal role to play in the story, she often remains silent and knows her place. In our version, this had to be changed quite a bit. Housemaids don’t really exist anymore, and people who hold similar positions in society are treated very differently. So Rachel is now the Alvings’ lodger, as well as their cleaner. But she is also a lot more outspoken. She stands up for herself a lot more, and this changes the dynamic of some of the scenes. We won’t spoil anything for you, but there is a scene in Act Three where Rachel totally steals the show. Regine is, sadly, never given that opportunity.
We hope you enjoy our adaptation of Ghosts as much as we have loved creating it. “Ghosts” plays at the John Godber Centre on the 15th and 20th September. Tickets can be bought at seaty.co.uk/ghosts.