Writer: Henry James
Adapted by Tim Luscombe
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Delving deep into the psyche, Henry James’ horror novella Turn of the Screw has, over the years since it was first published in 1898 as a magazine serial, engendered much discussion and shivers down the spines of critics and audiences alike. Those who have read the book or seen it performed as a stage or film production, on television – most recently in 2009 as a film for television starring Michelle Dochery – and even opera and two full-length ballets, are legion.
With more than a nod to a diversity of texts inspired by the original, of which Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and more recently The Innocents are foremost among those most generally known) , one of the most thought-provoking – and possibly irritating – characteristics of Turn of the Screw is that it leaves you to draw your own conclusions. Not as easy as this might sound, for despite being classified as a ghost story – which it most certainly is – it is also a deeply disturbing psychological thriller.
The setting is 1840, with a young governess arriving with some trepidation at a remote country house staffed by an elderly retainer, where her two young charges, Flora and Miles, await her. But they are not the only ones, for there are others. Lurking in the background and soon to make their presence felt are the ghosts from a past full of secrets, foremost among them being that of the children’s former governess Miss Jessel, who came to a sticky end. Or did she?
Tim Luscombe’s adaptation includes some additional pointers towards the sexual element in James’ story plus the inspired ploy of using the same actors – to portray Flora (Carli Norris) and Miles (Michael Hanratty) as children and as adults. The latter requires them to switch between the two with lightning speed on stage and, somewhat surprisingly, works well in the main. However, while the script requires the Governess to rhapsodise over her female charge as a ‘sweet child’ Smith’s Flora could more accurately be described as a hyper brat. But perhaps that was the intention? Hanratty fairs better in the transposition between defiant schoolboy and the man.
Carli Norris copes well in the pivotal role of the Governess, hell-bent on protecting her young charges from the forces of evil out there- and evil there is, manifesting itself in numerous ways, backed up by Matt Leventhall’s clever and subtle lighting. Maggie McCarthy’s aproned retainer Mrs Grose is a gem, although at times her speech is a tad unclear, due to the ‘country’ accent pinpointing the isolated location of the piece.
Sara Perks ‘cleverly designed set within an askew frame provides a great backdrop for James’ masterly ghost story. Under the direction of Daniel Buckroyd a pacey and action-filled Act I with thrills aplenty is followed by a somewhat slower second half encompassing a build-up of tension in the approach to the dramatic and shocking climax. Twists and turns point in all directions, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats not knowing what to expect – but totally scared.
Runs until Saturday 26th May 2018 | Image: Contributed