I am conscious with this column to not appear Dublin-centric when previewing and reviewing. After all, life does not begin and end in the capital city.

Nonetheless, access to large audiences often means the best offerings are staged in Dublin, and the current appetite for live theatre means companies are naturally attracted to the big venues available. As I pen this, the curtain is coming down on an exceptional piece of theatre, staged for almost a month at the Abbey.

The good news, however, is that not only can anyone in Ireland still have access to the production for a few more weeks, but you can get family and friends in any part of the world to watch it too. There is a catch – you need to activate a link to stream the play by 27 May. You then have a fortnight to watch it. I wholeheartedly recommend that you see this.

A moral thriller

The play is a well-known and respected piece by Henrik Ibsen, though this new version was written and is directed by Mark O’Rowe. Ghosts, considered one of the greatest plays ever written, is a moral thriller in which the themes of love, duty and family are put to the test. O’Rowe presents a pared back version of the original, and you will be hooked from the get-go.

Taking a path that has previously presented us with Howie The Rookie (an autobiographical piece) and The Approach, O’Rowe has teamed up again with Landmark Productions and the Abbey Theatre to great effect.

The five-person ensemble of Cathy Belton, Simone Collins, Declan Conlon, Lorcan Cranitch and Calam Lynch is world class, and the intensity of their performances leaves no margin for any acting weakness. Cathy Belton, in the role of Mrs Alving, is exceptional.

Ghosts was written in 1881 and first staged a year later in Chicago, Illinois, in a production by a Danish company on tour. Like many of Ibsen’s plays, it is a scathing commentary on 19th-century morality. It was not an immediate success, largely because of its subject matter. Themes which included religion, venereal disease, incest, and euthanasia caused great controversy and negative criticism.

A great play

Time has been much kinder, and today it is considered a great play that holds a position of immense importance in the pantheon of literary work.

“From the standpoint of modern tragedy, Ghosts strikes off in a new direction,” wrote Maureen Valency 60 years ago, adding: “Regular tragedy dealt mainly with the unhappy consequences of breaking the moral code. Ghosts, on the contrary, deals with the consequences of not breaking it.”

Mrs Alving is about to dedicate an orphanage she has built in memory of her late husband, despite his many affairs. She stayed with him to protect her son Oswald from the taint of scandal, and for fear of being shunned.

She discovers that Oswald is suffering from an unspeakable illness; that he has fallen in love with her maid Regina Engstrand, and that she is the non-marital daughter of Captain Alving, and therefore Oswald’s half-sister.

There are other sub-plots to the play, before we reach the disturbing climax. Following the revelation of Regina’s and Oswald’s sibling relationship, Regina leaves Oswald in anguish. He asks his mother to help him avoid the late stages of syphilis with a fatal morphine overdose. She agrees, but with a condition. The play concludes with Mrs Alving having to confront the decision of whether or not to euthanise her son in accordance with his wishes.


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