Show artwork for Ghosts of the past

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.

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

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.

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

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

Ghosts is performed in Sweden.

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’.

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

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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.

Published on 1 April 2014