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posted/updated: 01 May 2013 -
Henrik Ibsen
society/company: Adel Players (directory)
performance date: 24 Apr 2013
venue: Adel Memorial Hall, Church Lane, Adel, LS16 8DE
reviewer/s: John Anthony (Sardines review)

This is the second time I have had the privilege of reviewing Adel Players having been their guest for their production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons last October. They certainly like a challenge and so now they are taking on that dark and brooding classic, Ibsen's Ghosts (1881).
Now Ibsen famously likes to explore the darker side of human nature and so, unsurprisingly, this play is no exception. The ghosts of the title refer to past deeds and how they can continue to haunt the lives and loves of people living in the present. The protagonist, Pastor Manders, fulfils the same role as the title character in Ibsen's epic play Brand (1865) the message being in both cases, "beware the puritan". This piece also includes a character Jacob Engstrand who could well have been a template for Shaw's Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion (1912) a man of few morals but who can talk himself into, and out of, any situation with great wit and dexterity. In this case ultimately persuading Pastor Mander to sponsor, albeit unwittingly, the setting up of a new brothel in the town for passing sailors!

Now, notwithstanding the "bog standard" village hall setting, I had been before and so my expectations were set on high. The set that greeted me was not just good it was ! well let me try my humble best to do it justice. The view from the window of the fjord was fantastically well realised, a portion of the stage was a conservatory and it was a construction of great elegance. The set was appropriately furnished with assiduous attention to detail with the choice of ornaments etc. Now, as good as all of this was the jewel in the crown of the set was the hand painted Rosemaling design that was a motif throughout, especially on the wood panelling which was fabulous. The set was ! exquisite.

The play has a cast of five fantastically well drawn characters all of whom were brought to life in this production. Helen Duce (Regina Engstrand) was the nubile daughter who was able despite, or maybe because of, her highly conservative costume to be delightfully flirtatious and exuded sex appeal. David Pritchard (Jacob Engstrand) played her 'father' and his broad Yorkshire accent complimented his excellent characterisation and brought out the humour which was much appreciated by the audience.

Rob Colbeck (Pastor Mendes) was commendable in this demanding role and his long duologue with Mrs Alving was handled with good pace and authority. Chris Andrews (Oswald Alving) played the son, doomed to an early and degrading death due to a venereal disease inherited from his father. This was a challenging part played with real sincerity.

Now I am sure that Diane Newby (Mrs Helen Alving) must have scores of glowing reviews of her performances over the years so this is just one more to add to the long litany of praise for this most consummate actor. Her character had by far the greatest emotional distance to travel, from doting mother to, the play's tragic denouement, filicide. The audience were rapt in their attention as Diane took us to the edge of the abyss and beyond. A performance of spellbinding quality.

I would exhort you to go and see this fantastic production but sadly I was there on the last night so it is already too late! The thought of that fantastic set already being broken up is almost too much to bear. I am sure that those hand painted wood panels have already been gifted to cast and crew, but if there was one to spare !

Adel Players have been performing since 1945 and so although you may have missed this production there are bound to be many more so do check their website for details. Adel? It could be described as a northern suburb of Leeds, but as I plan to return it is better described as a picturesque Yorkshire village!

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