‘Ibsen is one of the great dramatists,’ says Jeremy Raison, artistic director of Citizens Theatre, in speaking about the choice of the final production of the season, the classic Ghosts.
Raison looked at other possible important works, looking for themes that were relevant to a modern audience, but found the central theme of Ghosts, that a generation must pay for the sins of its parents, pertinent. He compares the main characters’ suffering to the current war in the Middle East; the characters must pay for the father’s actions, just as modern Britain must now pay for its empire building and carving up of the Persian Gulf region a century ago.
When it originally premiered, Ghosts was an exercise in realism. It was meant to be performed as if people were holding real conversations without any theatrical touches. It also proved controversial with its thematic focus on taboo subjects such as adultery, incest and syphilis.
Raison points out that there have been many productions of Ghosts throughout the ages that have looked at parallel themes. For this current production, he sees a duality in social constrictions between Ibsen’s time and modern Britain. Ibsen felt Norway’s social morality prevented independent thought; Raison sees similar evidence in Britain, with certain ideas one cannot express and behaviours one must not practice without being shunned.
In speaking about the upcoming production, Raison states that it will be set in Ibsen’s Norway but that the translation, done by Amelia Bullmore, strikes a balance ‘between what feels fresh but also what feels like it could exist in [Ibsen’s] period.’ He also finds many cultural similarities between northern Scotland and Norway, calling the link between the two regions intriguing. ‘[This link] has been our kind of “in” to the piece.’
Raison is also excited to see how the play will be received by the audience. In speaking about the creative process, he said, ‘You start off with one play, which is the play that’s on the page. And as soon as you put it on its feet it becomes a different play. And then in fact when you put it in front of an audience it becomes yet a third play. It’s always a process of discovery.’
There are high hopes that this ‘discovery’ will cap off a season that Raison is genuinely proud of. The year began with the acclaimed Sub Rosa, a production he called ‘an extraordinary promenade that really worked and really showed the building off fantastically.’ This was followed by Educating Rita, a production that apparently found 50% of its audiences as newcomers to the Citizens. He was also highly complementary of Edward Gant, a play that he called ‘challenging, exciting and bold’, and of NTS’s Be Near Me, a piece he felt was ‘made for the space’. And he felt that the studio productions were equally strong, singling out XLC’s The Pillowman, a production that has been invited back for a revival in the autumn.
Returning to Ghosts, Raison calls the casting of Maureen Beattie as ‘a sort of coup’ as she is well known and regarded. ‘It’s exciting working with someone of her level, and it’s a very good cast overall.’
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