Ghosts

Ghosts of the past

It has been over 130 years since Henrik Ibsen created a literary scandal by publishing Ghosts in 1881. As Melbourne Theatre Company prepares to stage this work for the first time, we had a look at its tumultuous history.

1881
Following A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen begins writing Ghosts in Sorrento, Italy.

1881
Ibsen publishes Ghosts (Danish title: Gengangere) in Copenhagen. It is publicly condemned for its scathing commentary on marriage, religion and morality – European theatres refuse to stage the play.

1882
Responding to the public outcry surrounding Ghosts, Ibsen publishes An Enemy of the People (Norwegian title: En folkefiende), which receives a more positive response.

1882
Translated by William Archer, Ghosts receives its first production, performed in Chicago by a Danish touring company.

1883
Ghosts is performed in Sweden.

1891
Circumventing the Lord Chamberlain’s Office censorship, Ghosts is staged for a single private London performance at the Royalty Theatre. The Daily Chronicle says the play is ‘revoltingly suggestive’, The Daily Telegraph calls it ‘crapulous stuff’ believing it to be a ‘an open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly,’ while Truth refers to Ibsen as a ‘Scandinavian humbug’.

1906
Henrik Ibsen dies on 23 May and is buried in Vår Frelsers gravlund (The Graveyard of Our Savior) in central Oslo.

1906
Shortly after Ibsen’s death, director Max Reinhardt asks Edvard Munch (perhaps best known for his 1893 work, The Scream) to design the set for a new German production of Ghosts. Munch, not experienced in stage design, creates sketches of the characters in different scenes. The resulting 16 large paintings are currently displayed at the Munch Museum in Oslo.

1923
Ghosts makes its Australian premiere at the Palace Theatre in Sydney. The season involves matinee performances only and proceeds were donated to a children’s charity. The Sydney Morning Herald describes the play as ‘a tragedy on the influence of heredity’.

1982
The most recent Broadway revival of Ghosts opens at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, adapted by Arthur Kopit. Kevin Spacey, playing Oswald, makes his Broadway debut.

2013
Richard Eyre adapts Ghosts for the Almeida Theatre in London. After rave reviews, the production transfers to Trafalgar Studios and is nominated for five Olivier Award nominations.

2014
Ghosts is programmed for the first time by Melbourne Theatre Company, adapted and directed by Gale Edwards. The production begins on 17 May starring Linda Cropper and Philip Quast.

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