In Ibsen’s 1882 classic, the sins of the father inherited by the son are explored through the symbolic condition of inherited venereal disease. That son, Oswald, has returned home to Norway from Paris, where he has lived the life of a bohemian artist, now aware of his future. His mother, Helene, is about to open an orphanage in the name of her dead husband, his hypocrisy buried deep inside her and the community. It’s an intense, powerful play, and attention must be paid to the hints dropped in the text until everything becomes crystal clear in the last half hour. A superb cast, under Andrew Hodgson’s astute direction, creates a gripping, slow-burning production performed on a beautiful set made by the excellent creative team. 

As Helene, Laura Hill centres the production with a performance of great depth, sensitive yet finding steel when she needs to, really conveying the misogyny that is embedded in society that she must battle against and the love for her son. It’s another excellent performance by George Deadman as Oswald, initially buzzing with energy and hope, skilfully portraying his slide into despair. Hypocrisy and male power are strongly conveyed by Michael Cook as Pastor Manders, wriggling his way out of any situation that may smear his name, his pious attitude quietly destroying Helene’s life, and Wayne Setford as the sleazy Jacob Engstrand, intent on opening his home for sailors. However, it is clearly a brothel that he intends his daughter, Regina, to work at. Annabel Caldwell has an optimism as Regina that is beautifully conveyed, the audience empathising with her frustration and anger at the men in her life.

But the production really shines in the final duet between Oswald and Helene. This is of a professional standard, and there will be award nominations, at least later in the year. It’s a risk to present a show that demands such attention these days, but it’s another Headgate Theatre Productions triumph—one that will be talked about long after it becomes history.

Paul T. Davies