Turn of the Screw – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
By Ginger Bailey, March 2018
“I don’t like watching horrors, Ginger!” shouts my friend, Cat, on hearing that Turn of the Screw is a ghost story. Now I knew this, but had failed to mention it to Cat beforehand, assuming she had heard in passing of Henry James’ classic short story, written in the late 19th century.
The original tale follows a young governess newly charged with schooling two young siblings, recently orphaned. She becomes convinced that the house is haunted by the spirits of a former Governess and the Groundsman and that they wish harm upon the girl and boy.
“Set for spookiness”
The story continues to impress and influence 120 years after it was written and, as we take our seats, I’m impressed with the set. It sets the tone, with its disorientating angles, dark furniture and items covered with heavy dust covers. The mood is good and scene is definitely set for spookiness. Cat resigns herself to being scared.
This adaptation by Tim Luscombe, beautifully costumed, begins with the Governess, played by Carli Norris, attending an interview. She has impeccable references and it seems you would be silly not to snap her up. Mrs Conway, played by Annabel Smith, asks her to reveal her age.
She tells her she is 50-years-old and has worked from the age of 20. Mrs Conway demands the Governess tell her about her first placement and it becomes clear that she has lured her to this interview under false pretences. She reveals she is the young girl that the Governess taught some 30 years before – and her real aim is to question the Governess as to what happened all those years ago.
The rest of the play is told in flashbacks, with Annabel Smith playing the young girl and if not, on stage as the adult version, lurking in the background. The boy is played by Michael Hanratty – perhaps a little too old in the flesh – and the house keeper Mrs Grose by Maggie McCarthy, in a standout turn. A four person cast would have worked had the shrieking girl not become slightly irritable. She reminded me more of Queenie from Blackadder, her girly voice not quite hitting the right note in this setting.
Cat was not proved wrong and we did indeed jump at certain points and the play did give off an eerie, spooky vibe, with wonderful lighting from the tech team. Still, I am on the fence about this adaptation, which suggests that the Governess killed the young boy and as such, that she imagined the ghosts. I would happily read Henry James’ story and watch a further adaptation to contrast with this play, but fear not, would take along a lover of the ghost story next time.
images: Robert Workman