New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth until Saturday, April 7; and then Connaught Theatre, Worthing, April 18-21.
Tim Luscombe’s deliciously-clever stage adaptation of Turn of the Screw challenges, twists and satisfies – a chilling night at the theatre effectively and skilfully delivered.
Carli Norris is the governess, sent to look after two young children, Miles and Flora (Michael Hanratty and Annabel Smith), who, so it seems, might just be falling under the influence of malevolent, deceased spirits from the remote country house’s recent past.
At least, that’s the assumption when you cast you mind back to countless other adaptation of Henry James’ classic novella.
Here, however, thanks to an ingenious framing which keeps switching us between then and a now 30 years later, the governess is undermined as never before, taunted to finally accept the fact that she… well, made it all up.
Or did she? You will wander off wondering… Theatre that stays with you is always the best kind of theatre.
Madness, manipulation, call it whatever you like. The governess we’ve long taken to be a tigress valiantly fighting to wrest her charges from evil forces from beyond the grave might just be a seriously-unhinged mythomaniac afraid of everything, especially her own feelings.
Of course, the ambiguity is key to the original, but Luscombe’s version tips the balance daringly – and the governess and a key character (let’s not say who) keep us guessing as they repeatedly switch between time frames.
This is the governess being brought to book, made to face her failings – and Norris acquits herself superbly, as does Smith, dealing with even sharper changes of character/circumstance.
The piece makes you question everything, even the simple, seemingly good-hearted old retainer, Mrs Grose, beautifully played by Maggie McCarthy.
There something very special about a small-cast piece as intense as this, eerily staged in a genuinely-historic theatre – especially when the quality of the cast is so uniformly high.
Just a shame about the acres of empty seats. The cast deserved better – though you can’t help wondering whether a smaller theatre might have been to the production’s advantage as well.
For other stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2