An adaptation of the classic gothic horror by Henry James, this show promises chills and thrills but didn’t send too many shivers up my spine. Perhaps my familiarity with the story had something to do with that or perhaps it was because I was at the end of a row, braced in expectation of a woman in black creeping alongside me in the audience.
There were times when other audience members jumped in their seats.
It’s difficult not to compare this show with the West End classic Woman in Black which did make me start in my seat a few times. Both are based on novels that are written in a similar vein, set in the same era and feature two actors. Both also take place in isolated country houses that are concerned with the supernatural and past tragedies that locals are reluctant to speak about.
This production of The Turn of the Screw is a decidedly simpler affair, without any special effects, allowing the story to speak for itself. A naïve governess takes up a position caring for two children, Flora and Miles, at a grand house. She is under instruction from their charismatic uncle not to trouble him from his affairs in London. On arrival, she discovers sinister past events which cause her to become desperate to protect the children.
By sharing the narration between the two characters, this adaptation does away with the preamble present in the literary form. The characters consult books at times, a device that is not strictly necessary except to give them something to do to justify the epistolary tone of the narration.
As language has changed since the publication of James’s novel, there is some innuendo in the dialogue, for example in the scene between the young governess and her employer. There was a slight awkwardness as it took a while before there were some laughs so the wordplay could perhaps be accentuated further.
Strong performances from the cast keep us entranced. Suzy Whitefield’s easily seduced governess is wide-eyed and faintly idiotic in her optimism and Rik Grayson shines in the other roles – the employer, the housekeeper and the child Miles.
It’s a strong adaptation. There were times when other audience members jumped in their seats and although I didn’t find it quite as chilling, overall I found the performance quietly compelling.