Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts is a character driven narrative, exploring the minds of five characters interwoven into each other through family, incest, moral duty, and the fear of loneliness. This review is however, is in praise of the set design by Berlin designer Johannes Schultz.
Schultz’ stage design was a perfect match for Ibsen’s atmospheric narrative. It depicts the house of Helen Alving – a widowed woman who lives in burden of her late husband’s memory. In the front you have the living room, with the dining room, the kitchen and a bedroom off to the side. The stairs leading up to the rest of the house give the set height, and depth, without losing the integrity of its hoarder-like qualities.
It is lofty and large, but claustrophobic with things and possessions scattered about. Each vase of flowers, each unwashed plate in the kitchen, last year’s magazine pile on the floor was so well considered that the set could easily be a character in itself. Seemingly so simple, yet full of insight into the troubled minds of five troubled characters. Piles of out of date newspapers, unwashed dishes, tables and chairs adorned with life’s trinkets that have no purpose, but do not warrant to be thrown away.
Each audience member had a different view of the side rooms – from my seat in the middle of the upper circle, I could just peak through into Regine Estrand’s room. Watching her put on her shoes, brush her teeth, sing along to the french radio. These little insights into everyday life, a small slit in between a door frame of a person doing their normal everyday routine, only emphasised the intimacy of the play. You’re leaning closer and closer in, until you’ve been completely entranced by these small rituals of life, and you are enveloped in the lives of these detailed and complex relationships.
The set is itself of course, a manifestation of Helen Alving – a lost and troubled woman, carrying the burden of her husband’s untold sins. The house is on the right side of untidy, any more, and things would turn into chaos. Teetering on the edge of keeping it together. Her nerves, and composition blend into the house paralleling the house with a quiet powerlessness that a good set should represent.