Theatre review: Ghosts, Theatre Works

A new iteration of Ibsen's work retains the core, but moves the action from Norway to the Australian outback.
Ghosts. A young woman in a white dress stands on stage in a dark and gloomy house set with a blue/purple light behind where through the window. There is a lonely chair and piles of books near her.

Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts shocked the world with its exploration of taboo subject matter 120 years ago. While the content is not as inflamatory today, it retains its power as the flaws of the characters are still relevant today. It is only the lens through which the audience views them that has changed. 

Theatre Works transports the play from the cold of Norway to the heat of the Australian outback. This is cleverly showcased by having the cast perform in bare feet, which helps situate the production. The set, lighting and sound design create a haunting atmosphere of a country house that could be idyllic, but instead has a feel of oppression and impending disaster. The opening scene is highly memorable and sets the mood for the rest of the play.

The multi-level set with various windows allows for the action to be moved around and for characters to mime in the background.

The story revolves around Mrs Alving (Laura Iris Hill), a widow in whose house the play is set. In memory of her late husband, she is building an orphanage with the aid of Pastor Manders (Philip Hayden) and the carpenter Jacob Engstrand (Oliver Cowen). She lives with her maid Regina Engstrand (Kira May Samu) and is joined by her son Oswald (Gabriel Cali), an artist returning from Paris. The relationships between the characters are complicated over the course of the play by the returning problems of the past and the revelations that they bring. The cast are excellent and they work well together as an ensemble.

The action occurs over the course of a day and night. Steven Mitchell Wright’s direction moves it along relentlessly, but the play never feels rushed and the pacing increases the tension. The use of the non-active characters to mime in the background works well in some scenes, but can be distracting from the action in others.

Jodi Gallagher’s reworking of Ibsen’s material is done well, with the core of the play retained while changing the setting. The soliloquies are the only part of the script that don’t quite fully work. The insight into the characters’ minds feels unnecessary in the context of the story, as the plot is primarily driven by the interactions between the characters. The humour in the play falls flat, which can be attributed partially to the atmosphere of the play.

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Ghosts retains its power to shock due to its insightful exploration of the human condition and the flaws that can bring even the most well-meaning people to tragic circumstances. Theatre Works has delivered an excellent and haunting production that will live in the memory long after the lights go out. 

Ghosts by Jodi Gallagher after Henrik Ibsen
Theatre Works
Director and Designer: Steven Mitchell Wright
Composition and Sound Design: Leahannah Ceff
Stage Manager: Sarah Frencham
Producer: Belle Hansen
Design Associate: Millie Shanks
Lighting Designer: Ben Hughes
Studio Engineer: Ludovic Morin
Cellist: Paul Zabrowarny
Cast: Laura Iris Hill, Philip Hayden, Gabriel Cali, Oliver Cowen, Kira May Samu

Tickets: $20-$50 

Ghosts will be performed until 15 June 2024.

Kim Hitchcock is a freelance writer based in Melbourne who has an interest in all art forms and enjoys exploring them locally and abroad. He has completed a Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne and can be reached at