The Turn of the Screw
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Runs: 2h 0m: one interval: till 13April
Half ghost story, half elusive psychological thriller.
Even before the action starts there are unsubtle clues that something is horribly wrong about the establishment: a great arch framing the country house set is badly askew, and a rocking horse is rocking on its own. Clearly then, this is a ghost story involving children. It’s an adaptation of Henry James’s great novella The Turn of the Screw.
But it’s not simply a routine creepy mansion fright-a-minute evening. This is psychological drama. As in the original story, the audience is left to ponder whether the ghosts are real or a product of the diseased imagination of the protagonist, The Governess (Janet Dibley in a compelling performance). One way or the other, it’s never made explicit.
As Mrs Grose, the motherly but strangely evasive housekeeper, Maggie McCarthy also delivers an excellent performance, in some respects the most quietly outstanding of the evening. So does Amy Dunn, as Flora. Both as a child and as an adult she is entirely convincing.
Much less successful is Elliot Burton, handling all the male parts. As The Man, who engages the young governess in the first place and makes her fall for him, he does an acceptable job. But not for a moment does he ring true as the beautiful boy Miles. Nor does he ever fit the spoken (albeit incoherent) descriptions of the deceased Peter Quint.
The dialogue is deliberately elusive: no-one ever says precisely what he or she means – this is adapted from Henry James after all. But the overwhelming reason is that the play is concerned with an unspoken taboo, the real or imagined corruption of the innocent, of children, by deeply corrupted adults.
Given our contemporary preoccupation with these dark matters, this tale conceived in 1898, is of direct relevance to any thinking person. That said, almost miraculously, it also manages to entertain.
The Governess: Janet Dibley
Mrs Conray: Amy Dunn
Mrs Grose: Maggie McCarthy
The Man: Elliot Burton
Director: Daniel Buckroyd
Designer: Sara Perks
Composer/Sound Designer: Richard Brooker
Lighting Designer: Matt Leventhall