THE NORTHCOTT THEATRE – TILL 30 MARCH 2019 AND TOUR
THE TURN OF THE SCREW
RUNNING TIME – 1 hour 50 minutes – One interval
Northcott Box Office – 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 28 MARCH 2019
The stage ghost story is not an oft-seen genre these days. Apart from ‘The Woman in Black’ which has been doing good business in London for many years, there isn’t a great deal else on offer. Henry James’ classic ghost/psychological thriller has been adapted for the stage before and for many other mediums and is here seen in a new version by Tim Luscombe. For his first directing venture in his new position as Artistic Director of the Northcott, Daniel Buckroyd, has revived the production he premiered in 2018 in Colchester.
A young woman is hired by a man to take charge of his young nephew and niece (Miles and Flora) in a large country house where the previous governess died in mysterious circumstances. The youngsters appear to know more than they let on and soon strange figures appear to the woman but inexplicably to no one else……the plot thickens!
With sheet covered furniture, a flash of light, a musical clang, the motionless figure of a woman and a child’s rocking horse in full motion – with no rider – we are thrust straight into a taut atmosphere where shadowy figures lurk everywhere.
The adaptation by Tim Luscombe, after an idea by Dermot McLaughlin, tells the story in a series of flashbacks with a cast of just four. The concept is clever, but the movement back and forth in time does, at times, become a little blurred. The adult Flora acts as narrator and the same actor portrays the young girl and the former governess and the Uncle also portrays the boyish Miles and the zombie-like ghost of the former valet Quint. Such is the speed of these transitions, that the narrative becomes tangled and tricky to follow. Overhearing audience members leaving the performance, there was a level of confusion about the storyline. The reliance on a cast of just four may well work against the telling of the story in this case.
The setting is simple with well-chosen furniture and props – except the snakes and ladders board which jarred with me; folded boards like this are a very late 20th Century invention I would have thought, not mid-19th. Though not particularly significant, the door in the back wall only opened partially and from where I was sitting I could not see though it. Lighting and sound were generally fine, but I wonder if there could have been some more invention in atmospherics. A loud clang and a flash of bright light is not the only way to make an audience jump.
It seems to be the convention these days to warn audiences what they are seeing with notices in the foyer, so we were told about the use of haze and that there would be ‘mild peril’ – whatever that is! I am afraid mild is all we got when the story screams out for more tension and discomfort. I am afraid it was all rather tame and old-fashioned – not at all a ‘fresh, immediate take on Henry James’ classic for today’s audience’ as suggested by the Producer in his programme note.
It is never fun watching an actor have a bit of a nightmare on stage and, unfortunately, Janet Dibley as the Governess had just such a night. I can speak from experience when I say that when the words won’t come out they just won’t. The cast worked hard to keep the performance going, but sadly such tension that there was, often broke due to uncertainty of lines. This apart, I am not sure the actor is strong enough to create the powerful nature of the character and play. As Mrs Conray/Flora, Amy Dunn is excellent and her sudden transformation into the younger self is well done. Elliot Burton holds his own as the charming, but disturbing Miles and Maggie McCarthy as the kindly and caring housekeeper Mrs Grose is well cast.
For me, this is a disappointing production. It lacks edge when it should have a very sharp one. Even the ending, the climax of the story, should have power but was a damp squib with the audience not sure if that was the final curtain or not. A combination of a tricksy adaptation and a lack of invention from the director have not convinced me we have another staple of the stage horror story on our hands. It is a surprise it is not more effective when it has toured before. I hope that the actors will regain some confidence and the production some more thrills, as it starts out on its tour.
THE GOVERNESS – JANET DIBLEY
MRS CONRAY – AMY DUNN
MRS GROSE – MAGGIE McCARTHY
THE MAN – ELLIOTT BURTON
ADAPTATION – TIM LUSCOMBE
DIRECTOR – DANIEL BUCKROYD
ADAPTATION CONCEIVED BY – DERMOT McLAUGHLIN
DESIGNER – SARA PERKS
LIGHTING – DAVID W KIDD
COMPOSER/SOUND DESIGN – JOHN CHAMBERS
PRODUCED BY DERMOT McLAUGHLIN PRODUCTIONS & EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE