A play about death, mental illness and sexual depravity is always going to be disturbing; when said play involves young children, the discomfort becomes gut-wrenching shock. Such a one is The Turn Of The Screw. This particular performance is clever, slick, engrossing… and deeply, deeply disturbing.
Bravely, Tower Theatre Company have decided to spare their audience none of the controversial horror that characterises Henry James’ novel. Neither have they made the mistake of attempting to draw a definite conclusion to a story which is so deliberately ambiguous, choosing instead to let the audience decide; is the governess mad or not?
The governess in question is hired by one Mr Sackville to take charge both of his recently orphaned niece and nephew and of Bly, the country estate in which they reside. Once in situ her pastoral idyll gradually becomes dark with foreboding and menace; the children, while outwardly angelic, appear to have secrets, and a sinister mystery clouds the departure of their last governess and valet. Director Martin South, appearing himself on stage for only a brief time, plays expertly with our fears; the sense of increasing menace is palpable and the sudden shocks, while few, are violent. The oppressive atmosphere is accentuated with a heavy, dark set and some excellently devised and operated projections, which effectively conjure flickering candlelight, pouring rain and scudding clouds. The occasional piercing yelp of a fox was also weirdly eerie.
Inevitably, a complex set in such a small space will be problematic; however, occasional mechanical malfunctions and glimpses of characters whisking around backstage notwithstanding, it was a gallant and impressive effort.
The principal issue, and one which needs to be addressed, was one of acoustics. The children, real-life brother and sister Isaac and Eliza Insley, are supremely talented performers; however, there were many scenes during which they were barely audible. This can in part be attributed to the age-old problem of where to face in a 3-sided auditorium, but often it was the sound effects which were drowning out their voices. Despite this drawback they both gave outstanding performances; little Flora was a charming eccentric and Miles, uncomfortably straddling the wall between child and man, was a joy to watch. Isaac in particular should be congratulated on his handling of such challenging and sensitive subject matter.
Alison Liney was a delight as comfortable, comforting housekeeper Mrs Grose, and Emily Carmichael’s portrayal of the unreliable narrator, the governess herself, was a triumph. The subtlety with which she nuanced her character underlined the ambiguity of the story; are her reactions due to hysteria, or very real horror? Impossible to tell. She also dealt with the sexual implications inherent in her character with great delicacy; no easy feat in the circumstances.
The Turn of the Screw cannot simply be dismissed as a Gothic Novel – it is also a psychological drama and a commentary on the Human Condition. To convey all of this in a pub theatre, and at the same time deliver a wonderful evening’s entertainment, is a superb achievement. Congratulations to the Tower Theatre Company.
Review by Genni Trickett
The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James – adapted for the stage by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Directed by Martin South
Tuesday 14th – Saturday 18th July
Evenings at 7.30
Matinée at 3.00
Saturday 18th July 2015
The Tower Theatre performing Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate
A young governess arrives at a remote estate in Bly to care for two orphans, Miles and Flora. Wild but angelic, they charm their new guardian with flowers, poetry and song. But as she grows to love her two wards, the chilling history of the house and its former inhabitants surfaces, and the governess must face a terrifying battle to protect the children.
The Governess : Emily Carmichael
Miles : Isaac Insley
Flora : Eliza Insley
Sackville : Martin South
Mrs. Grose : Alison Liney
Peter Quint : Nicolas Holzapfel
Miss Jessell : Nina Tolleret
Director : Martin South
Set Design : David Taylor
Costume Design : Deb Lonnon
Lighting Design : Robin Snowden
Sound Design : Colin Guthrie
Projection Design : Victor Craven
Stage Manager : Sara Yasmin George
Assistant Director : Anna Whitelock
Wednesday 15th July 2015