Ghosts review – Niamh Cusack is compelling in deft, dark Ibsen

Home, Manchester
The melodrama is kept at bay in Polly Findlay’s fine production of David Watson’s new version

Here is a measure of what an actor Niamh Cusack is, how viscerally, totally she can remake a part: nine years ago in a stripped-down adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Gate, she played the part of the mother of a syphilitic boy as if her secrets were a physical impediment, dragging her down as she moved. In Polly Findlay’s rapid modern-dress production at Home, Manchester, her anxieties propel her into action. In jeans and trainers, she jackknifes over the back of a sofa like a teenager. She swarms over her son. She kisses her reluctant lover, Pastor Manders, with unstoppable ardour.

David Watson’s impressive new version finds spectres – including “fresh-faced phantoms” – everywhere. In the pastor who turns away from love: Jamie Ballard bubbles with repressed feeling. In the unacknowledged daughter of the house, made exquisitely manipulative by Norah Lopez Holden. In William Travis’s very convincing wheedling drunk. The hardest part to bring off is that of the dying young man who, “worm-eaten”, shambles around as a symbol of everything that has gone wrong. Ken Nwosu is impressive: angry and unsentimental; a sense of threat steams from him. But he should not utter the closing words of the play – the famous pun on sun and son – in a croak. He sounds like a Dalek.

Niamh Cusack, Jamie Ballard, Norah Lopez Holden and Ken Nwosu in Ghosts.
‘Spectres everywhere’: Niamh Cusack, Jamie Ballard, Norah Lopez Holden and Ken Nwosu in Ghosts. Photograph: Jonathan Keenan

Findlay’s production is as deft as it is dark. The melodrama, which can threaten the play, is kept at bay. The snatches of music occasionally heard at turning points are barely louder than a breath. When fire reduces a newly built children’s home to cinders, the stage is lit by a red glow. It comes not from outside but from within, from a domestic heater. Family life is an inferno.


Susannah Clapp

The GuardianTramp

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