The Turn of the Screw
Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 28 September - 1 October 2011
Based on the novella by Henry James
Henry James probably wrote the best known and most frightening ghost story in our language. It has been successfully adapted for theatre, opera and film. One might easily suppose that a new stage adaptation could not possibly add anything worthwhile. Into this literary minefield, however, steps Mike Ward, an Abingdon-based stage designer who never fails to hit that "Wow" button.
This production was not only directed by Mike, but written (adapted from the novella), too. The script is beguilingly clever with a controlled, fast-paced narrative thrust worthy of a thriller. Furthermore the design employs all the trompe l'oeil, visual metaphor and stunning photography that create a theatrical experience more immediate than film, television or book.
The design pulls you into a labyrinth of levels that parallel the psychology of the corrupted children. There are spiders' webs, staring dolls' faces, owls and rotting vegetation accompanied by pulsing sounds, evocative music and sudden shock cuts. Our senses are assailed and totally engaged with the text. The short, sharp scenes propel us along inexorably to the play's denouement. It would be impressive in any theatre, but the Unicorn is a very special environment with its links to hundreds of years of history and steeped in the beliefs of generations of men of faith. Ghosts can easily be believed here!
The cast need to be very competent to cope with the intricate demands of this show; short scenes are notorious for generating over-acting. Furthermore the technical complexity of scene changing can take on a fascination of its own that detracts from the plot. Fortunately most of the players were well up to the challenge.
There are outstanding performances from the two children Miles and Flora, played by Conor Mosdale and Maddie Smith. Their confident performances were riveting. Lynne Smith, playing Mrs Grose, the housekeeper, returns a beautifully measured, convincing performance, credibly dealing with the ambiguities in her mind about the new governess and her deceased predecessors.
Ghosts can often seem rather silly in our modern scientific world. Playing them on stage is always a risk. John Hawkins as Quint and Andrea Mardon as Miss Jessle were unfazed - terrifying at all times. Their menace never left us, even when they weren't on stage. Liz Adams as the governess played the intense and emotionally-charged parts of her role with less subtlety at times than the script required, though her fear and anger had real fire.
The production is a gem of small theatre, well-written, well-directed, well- designed and competently acted by an experienced cast. The evening in the theatre is very rewarding. The play continues until Saturday.
Gwilym Scourfield - Daily Info