Turn of the Screw – Gaiety Theatre – Review

Turn of the Screw – Gaiety Theatre – Review
by Frank L.

Dates: 4th Jun. – 8th Jun.

Henry James, in serial form, published in 1898 his novella “The Turn of the Screw”. It has enthralled artists of many different genres since, including Benjamin Britten who wrote an acclaimed opera based on it in 1954. In 1961, it inspired “The Innocents” directed by Jack Clayton, which veteran American film reviewer Pauline Kael claimed to be “the best ghost movie I’ve ever seen”. That film was itself made from a stage adaptation of the novella. There have been other stage adaptations and even a ballet. So there is a veritable canon of interpretations of Henry James’s masterpiece.

The cast in the programme is described as the Governess (Janet Dibley), Mrs Conray (Amy Dunn), Mrs.Grose (Maggie McCarthy) and the Man (Elliot Burton). No mention is made of the four characters who reside or have resided at Bly, namely Myles and Flora together with the spirit of Peter Quint and Miss Jessell. Liberties are taken with the story which begins with Mrs. Carney interviewing the Governess for a job. She is not interested in the Governess’s recent references, she wants to know about her first appointment. She harries her until she admits it was at Bly when Mrs. Carney announces herself as a grown up Flora. The story as to what happened at Bly all those years ago is then told.

Elliot Burton plays not only Myles and Peter Quint but also, at the beginning, the uncle of Myles and Flora and the Governess’s first employer. Amy Dunn plays Flor and Miss Jessell. Given that Peter Quint and Miss Jessell are ghosts this requires both actors to switch from the physical to the ephemeral in the twinkling of an eye.

The set has three receding frames which are each not at a right angle to the stage and also out of kilter with each other. It creates an unsettling impact. Various items of furniture are covered with white sheets which creates a suitable spookiness. When Mrs Carney morphs into Flora they are quickly removed to reveal a suitable collection of mundane late nineteenth century furniture.

The cast keep the audience rapt as the plot unfolds but the fear generated in the original by the ghostly appearances of Peter Quint and Miss Jessell in the mind of the Governess gets diminished by the requirement of each them having to switch from being ghosts to flesh and blood humans. These switches were expertly carried out by Elliott Burton and Amy Dun but the impact of Quint and Jessell in the story was made less frightening.

This is a slick production but it has moved quite a distance from the tautness of James’s classic story. The perplexities of what may or may not have been playing tricks in the mind of the Governess are not to the fore. It is undoubtedly well crafted and enjoyable to watch but it does not have you on the edge of the seat with fear which it should.

Written by Henry James – Adapted by Tim Luscombe

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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