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South East
posted/updated: 11 Jul 2019 -
Henrik Ibsen in a version by Mike Poulton
society/company: Banbury Cross Players (directory)
performance date: 10 Jul 2019
venue: The Mill Arts Centre, Spiceball Pk Road, Banbury, OX16 5QE
reviewer/s: Alex Wood (Sardines review)

I was very impressed by this production.

Mike Poulton's adaptation gives the play a 21st century freshness which at the same time pays proper respect to the original. That he is able to do this, of course, reflects very well on the way Ibsen's play lays bare themes which are still totally relevant today, over a hundred years since the play was written; which is why the play is a classic.

Ghosts - the things that we prefer not to talk about - are everywhere, most notably for thethree adult characters in the play.

At its centre is Helen Alving, caught in the trap of trying to preserve her late husband's reputation, in spite of despising his memory as a drunken lech, as a means of saving her own. As well as this she feels a deep need to protect her son, especially when she discovers the he has inherited his father's disease.

A huge role, hardly ever off the stage, Hilary Beaton plays it with impressive understanding and empathy. Utterly believable - especially in the final scene with Osvald.

Pastor Manders is an old family friend. He possesses an unwordliness combined with a moralistic approach to the world and its problems. But there is another ghost here -he encouraged Helen Alving to marry the man who became her tormentor, but has never realised the nightmare he pushed her into until she reveals how unhappy she is.

Phillip Croxson is ideal as the niaive man who sees himself as her confidant and advisor, so palpably shocked when he realises otherwise.

Jacob Engstrand is a very fallible man - as he is willing to remind one and all - whose apparently hopeless aspect is a cover for a very scheming bad sort and abusive father.

Surprising then that this character provides some light relief in this tense masterpiece and Anthony Collier clearly took on this challenge with enthusiasm, skill and a good deal of very good comic timing, whilst never allowing us to forget what Engstrand is really about.

Ben Harwood gives his all and duly impresses as the tortured Osvald - at first the rather louche young artist, back from his soujourn in Paris, becoming more unsettled as the play progresses and the ghosts emerge. His pleas to his mother at the end of the play reminding me of Hamlet in his scene with Gertude.

Regina Engstarnd is a smaller but important role, played with great confidence by Katy Roberts. Her fury on her discovery that she is no longer wanted in the Alving household is extremely well-observed.

With a very fine set by Richard Ashby this play, directed by John McCormick, was a fitting finale to another  great season by Banbury Cross Players.



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