Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Richard Eyre
Watching a filmed version of a theatrical production will never offer the same experience as being at the venue with an audience and viewing actors in the flesh.
However, Digital Theatre is intent on proving that this can be a valid and enjoyable way to view plays. In doing so, it hopes to create a new audience and also do something that theatre cannot: make a permanent record of some of the very best productions today. If only it had been around when Gielgud and Olivier or for that matter Irving and Ellen Terry had been in their pomp.
Sir Richard Eyre's racy, modern adaptation of Ibsen's Ghosts was one of the highlights of last year, winning awards and showcasing the fantastic talent of Lesley Manville.
Following its success at the Almeida, the production transferred to the Trafalgar Studios with a slightly changed cast, Adam Kotz taking over from Will Keen as the unfortunate Pastor Manders.
It is there that Digital Theatre filmed the production earlier this year for the delectation of those that either could not get tickets or find it easier to watch from home.
Ghosts is a play that can seem old-fashioned with its concentration on honour, religion and respectability. However, many of its themes are still as relevant today as they were over a century ago.
This production ensures that viewers will be drawn into the plights of two families, a wealthy mother and son, the Alvings and a poor father and daughter The Engstrands as well as the peculiarly innocent Pastor Manders.
The story really is harrowing with the mother Hélène Alving facing the consequences of her husband’s dissolution in the company of a priest, while her son Oswald returns from the glamour of Paris a broken and bemused man.
Their misfortunes are contrasted with those of a Scotsman who flits effortlessly between honour and deceit and his daughter who is desperate to escape her class.
Where this type of presentation really scores is in the opportunity to look deep into the eyes of the actors. While Lesley Manville seemed outstanding when seen on a stage from relatively close quarters in the stalls, a camera close-up gives us a true opportunity to enjoy the quality of her acting and depiction of a woman's anguish as she watches the swift downward spiral of her son's health and confidence.
Jack Lowden similarly shines as her son Oswald, particularly as the disease from which he is suffering begins to take its toll at the same time as his desired future with Regina is shown to be impossible.
Charlene McKenna in that role and Brian McCardie playing her father Jacob each gets one big speech and makes the most of it.
The all-seeing camera proves incredibly powerful, allowing us to watch the discomfort and hypocrisy of the pastor and observe young love turning to bitter disappointment in an instant.
Overall, while watching a play on either a tablet or PC (though TV is also an option if you have the right brand or connecting wires) cannot compete with the live experience, Digital Theatre presents something different that should definitely be tried out.
Ghosts is available now to watch at Digital Theatre.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher