The Turn of The Screw

Wed 13th – Sat 16th May 2015

reviews

Maddy Searle

at 01:20 on 14th May 2015

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Jocelyn Major and Greg Forrest’s Turn of the Screw is a rather bewildering and intensely atmospheric rendering of Henry’s James’s novella. An eager governess is hired by a wealthy gentleman to tutor his niece and nephew at the isolated Bly estate. The children’s naïve joy, and the governess’s growing affection for them, is soon marred by uncanny occurrences and sightings of mysterious figures.

On entering the auditorium, the audience was greeted by the eerie sound of wuthering wind, already instilling a sense of unease, which would only grow throughout. The set was meticulously arranged in naturalistic style, filled with paraphernalia of a bygone age: a cricket bat, a writing desk, a straw boater, a frilly tablecloth.

The opening scene introduced us to the governess, played by Helena Blair. Her endearing, infectious enthusiasm contrasted with the languid, careless uncle, portrayed by Seth Kruger. The governess’s simple white dress was also counterbalanced by the uncle’s expensive-looking suit. Despite only having one scene, Kruger established his character forcefully, as he could turn a single line into a statement of the uncle’s personality. For instance, the threatening tone he employed when telling the governess “You are never to bother me” was particularly chilling and displayed his character’s patriarchal dominance.

On arrival at the Bly estate, the governess is introduced to the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, and one of her tutees, Flora. Rose Reade rose to the challenge of playing a young child well, bringing charm and freshness to the role. Her brother, Miles, was played by Isobel Laidler. She had a calm, quiet delivery and relaxed hands-in-pockets stance which showed Miles’s easy confidence. She also avoided the trap of merely impersonating a young boy by fully immersing herself in the character.

As the unsettling, ghostly events begin to occur, props, sound and lighting were used effectively to convey tension and mystery. When the children and the governess are playing Blind Man’s Buff, Flora and Miles giggle with delight, but the giggles build and build to a crescendo of screaming, with the creative use of pre-recorded sound, causing the governess to panic. Later, when Miles has gone missing and the governess manically searches for him, the dim lighting, along with Mrs Grose’s flickering lantern and the sounds of a howling wind, set the mood for the rest of the play. The use of sound in the scene changes, such as childish piano-playing of Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses, was less successful, as they did not cover the entirety of the gap, and the fade to black between scenes was rather slow and clunky.

In the second half of the play, the acting ability of the performers really shone through. The governess descends into fear, and becomes angry at the children. Blair’s subtle movements and expressions in her soliloquies, coupled with her fear-induced temper in her scenes with the children, showed her range as an actor.

The final scenes of the play left me rather confused, as events took place very quickly and the governess’s mental state became ever more ambiguous. It is uncertain whether she is mad, or whether the figures she sees are actually there. She grows violent in her attempts to get the truth from Flora and Miles, and after what could be a final stand-off with one of the apparitions or merely an aggressive confrontation with Miles, there are tragic consequences.

Overall, Turn of the Screw is a thought-provoking and eerie retelling which left me intrigued by the plot and impressed by the acting ability of the cast. While the end of the play was somewhat abrupt, the building of tension throughout was masterful and worthy of James’s novella.

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