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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ghosts, Citizens' Theatre review

Published in The Guardian.

Ghosts review

Citizens, Glasgow
4 out of 5

"All of us are haunted by dead ideas and dead opinions," says the matriarchal Mrs Alving in Ibsen's drama about new ways of living and old skeletons in the closet. Ironically, 130 years down the line, it is the dead ideas of Ibsen that haunt today's stage. No modern playwright would be able to get away with an opening act in which Pastor Manders tells Alving not to take out insurance on her new orphanage, followed by a closing act in which the orphanage burns down. The mechanics are just too obvious.

And whereas in Ibsen's day, Manders was the voice of conventional but very real authority, today he is one step away from ridicule, his homilies about marital fidelity sparking derisory laughter. It's a great credit to Kevin McMonagle that he plays the part with such conviction, riding the laughs but never playing for them, revealing a character who, like all of us, is a product of his age; well-meaning but blind to the bigger picture.

Despite it all, what strikes us is Ibsen's modernity. This is especially clear in Jeremy Raison's streamlined production of the recent translation by Amelia Bullmore, performed without an interval on Jason Southgate's airy, bleached-wood set. Alving's belief that "propriety and law make all the misery in the world" still has a radical charge, while the free-thinking life of her artist son (an excellent Steven Robertson) retains its unconventional allure.

In the lead role, Maureen Beattie seems too big for the world she is born into, too big almost for the stage. Despite the pressures - faithless husband, illegitimate stepdaughter, syphilitic son - she remains unbroken, too proud to let us wallow in her tragedy, too intelligent to accept defeat, making her a very modern woman.

© Mark Fisher, 2009

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