‘Ghosts’ by Henrik Ibsen – a new version written and directed by Mark O’Rowe

by Niamh Byrne

Attending different plays in Dublin, and in rare cases around the world is something I love to do in my spare time. And as someone who had never stepped foot inside Ireland’s National Theatre (founded by
W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904) I was very excited indeed to visit this hallowed building that is the Abbey Theatre.

So, on my first excursion to the Abbey I chose to see a new rendition of Ibsen’s masterpiece, ‘Ghosts.’ This new interpretation was written and directed by Mark O’Rowe. I chose to see this particular play as it explores complex ideas of love, duty, and most importantly family. At the centre of the play is the relationship between a mother and son, Helena and Oswald. Oswald has been abroad for several years, and is now returning home; bearing with him a terrifying secret. Experiencing it as I did in the front row, which usually puts me off as I don’t want to be craning my neck all the way through, I have to say it added to the intimacy of the performance here. Being up so close to the actors one could see every facial expression and knew when something wasn’t right. The play really captures the bond between mother and son, and how there is just about anything they wouldn’t do for each other.

Henrik Ibsen

“Didn’t you say there isn’t anything you wouldn’t do for me?” is the tagline of the play, which I found to be throat grabbing.

Ireland’s Cathy Belton, best known for roles in Hidden Assets, Red Rock and Philomena, plays Helena Alving and pulls off a wonderful performance as the mother trying to do what’s best for her family. Calum Lynch (another reason I chose this play!) also gave a superb performance as Oswald. Known better perhaps as Eloise Bridgerton’s love interest Theo Sharpe in the Netflflix smash Bridgerton. The flawless interaction between the two brought a tear to my eye by the finale.

Mark O’Rowe, writer and director of Ghosts said: “I adapted Ghosts for Cathy Belton after she told me one day that she’d always wanted to play Mrs Alving. It’s an astonishingly powerful piece – complex and utterly relevant. Writing this version has been both a challenge and a joy, and I couldn’t be more excited or honoured to be presenting it as a Landmark and Abbey Theatre co-production.”

The play attracted quite a diverse audience which included children and young groups of boys and girls, which is nice to see. Also among the crowd was Channel Four’s Gyles Brandreth, who flew over especially to see the play. And many visitors to our shores had it on their ‘must see’ itinerary. Talking to a group of American tourists at the bar, one of them told me she had to see for herself the famous Irish theatre as part of her sightseeing, “because of its reputation for showing original Irish plays.” The play ended its run at the Abbey on May 13th, but if it comes around again make sure and grab a ticket. I would highly recommend seeing this one.