Following the success of her Glass Menagerie with Eamon Flack, actor Pamela Rabe reunites with the director to explore the knottiness of Ibsen’s Ghosts. By Harry Windsor.
Pamela Rabe is on the phone, the morning after opening night of the new production of Ibsen’s Ghosts at Belvoir. Without a trace of actorly effusion, she says: “I’m really looking forward to settling it in.”
The show’s previews have afforded the cast, which includes Robert Menzies alongside Rabe, opportunity to tweak the work extensively, a process she likens to “popping grapes”.
It’s a phrase she picked up from director Annabel Arden, the co-founder of British touring theatre Complicité, during rehearsals for The Art of War at the Sydney Theatre Company, where Rabe was a member of the short-lived Actors Company from 2006 to 2009.
“When a thing is starting to congeal and galvanise, suddenly the little moments that you need to attend to become really apparent,” she says. “You learn a lot about the story you’re telling collectively, and the audience is helping you tell that story.”
Ghosts is one of Ibsen’s knottiest works, one “that has no bottom”, according to Rabe. She stars as Mrs Alving, a survivor of violent abuse at the hands of an unfaithful husband, dead for 10 years when the play begins.
We meet the widow drawing up plans for an orphanage with the assistance of the doctrinaire and judgemental Pastor Manders, played by Menzies. Getting the place insured won’t be necessary, he says; it might look like faithlessness. No prizes for guessing what happens next.