Unsettling, dark and utterly brilliant, Ghosts, the final Oxford-based student production from James Watt and the rest of Poor Player Theatre is a simply unmissable show.
Henrik Ibsen’s 19th century play is a claustrophobic piece, set over the course of one day and night within the confine of a single room. In an increasingly intense series of meetings, we see wealthy widow Helene Alving coming to terms with the death of her husband and the arrival of her son from Paris, events which push the play onwards towards their dark conclusion.
The acting talent on display is extraordinary, and Isobel Jesper Jones (playing Helene) and Yash Saraf (playing her son, Oswald) deserve special mention, particularly as the latter was a late addition to the cast. Both actors had total control over extremely complex characters, and masterfully toyed with the audiences’ emotions, particularly in the final scenes. Alex Hill (Jacob Engstrand) and Sammy Glover (Regina Engstrand) seemed unphased by the translations’ demands of a Glaswegian accent, while Ieuan Perkins relished the role of the vacillating Pastor. The small cast has worked to the productions advantage; while individual actors each perform brilliantly, it is the spark and rapport between them which add another layer of realism to the show.
Set and design are not often name-checked in reviews, but designer Steve Wright fully deserves recognition for his transformation of the BT. The audience sit on all four sides of the stage, which is set up with doors and hanging windows to convey an enclosed room, with hundreds of autumn leaves scattered on the floor and hung from the ceiling. There has also been a real attention paid to detail – a throwaway line about it raining outside, for example, means dousing characters just before they come on stage, and a sunrise is recreated beautifully using a single light and a window frame. “Immersive” has been the buzzword for productions this Trinity, but Ghosts is one of the few which actually deliver on the promise, creating a tense and unsettled atmosphere, with the audience at the heart of the action.
With a running time of just 90 minutes, no interval, this is a tightly crafted production which succeeds in challenging and shocking its audience. Extraordinarily well acted and beautifully designed, this is probably one of the best student productions this year – get a ticket while you still can.