The Turn of the Screw | by Henry James
“It is possible that reading the original novella would have helped the audience in understanding this play but this can never be assumed. As a result many of the ambiguities in the novella, including the central one of whether Miss Grey is hallucinating, suffering from an excess of imagination, or is genuinely seeing ghosts, remain largely unexplored in the stage play. We certainly see the ghosts when Miss Grey does and this aspect of the play was conveyed superbly, with dramatic make up in the case of Miss Jessel and wonderful lighting effects for the backlit Quint and the sudden appearance of ghosts or Miles on a previously empty stage. The final tableau in which we see Quint and Miss Jessel carrying off Miss Grey, accompanied by a piercing scream and then the flash of the blinders, was genuinely scary. In fact the technical elements of this production, from sound, lights, costumes and set were all of a very high standard. There was no doubt that the production values were high throughout.
That the emphasis of the stage play was on the visualization of the ghosts was inevitable; without them the play would be extremely hard to imagine. However, we are not given too many clues about Miss Grey’s state of mind to be able to judge categorically whether she is psychotic or not. There were certainly signs of anxiety from an early stage. Jennifer Burchett’s wonderfully fluent interpretation of this character included facial tics upon meeting Mr Crimond (well played by Jesses Powis); involuntary hand wringing and shaking as she tried to face her inner (or were they external?) fears; and peaks and troughs of emotion when dealing with the children. To this extent we were aware that this governess was not quite in control of herself never mind her charges. The children, played by Esme Hollier and Nat Patuzzo, conveyed the impression of quiet menace, of hidden depths, with a combination of silence, knowing looks and the avoidance of direct answers. Only their violent speech, coinciding with that of the ghosts, suggested that Miss Grey was hallucinating but this scene was such a shock that I didn’t listen to the words they delivered.
In appearance the children almost looked other-worldly, with Miles in particular like a Midwich Cuckoo. This added to the underlying tension and begged so many questions? Why did Mr Crimond wash his hands of his charges? What was the real story of Quint and Miss Jessel? Why was Miles expelled from school? What else was being covered up or suppressed?
Sally Ransom’s quiet and mousy Miss Grosse ably conveyed the sense of a somehow disjointed household with a secret which she was incapable of admitting or divulging and so the underlying unease never went away. However, our questions didn’t go away either and so we are left with a scary story in which the children are somehow innocent victims but of what specifically we can never know. A very intriguing and carefully crafted piece of theatre.”
Stewart Adkins for NODA Region 8