Based on the novella by Henry James
Adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Pros: A top class show with terrific production values, brilliant character development, extraordinary performances and genuinely terrifying horror effects.
Cons: I have no issue with the production itself, however, the novella, written in 1898, suffers from decades of screen imitations, making a once original plot seem clichéd at times.
Our Verdict: Everything about this play is top notch from the stunning set and wonderful performances to the shocking special effects and creepy children. This is the scariest live production I have ever seen.
Call me crazy but I tend to find stories about pasty-faced Victorian children rather unsettling, even at the best of times. Their penchant for popping up in horror films with their weird singing and their staring tends to leave me grasping at the nearest cushion/cat/human for comfort. This teamed with the terrifying oddities these children call ‘toys’ – rocking horses, blinking porcelain dolls, cymbal-clashing monkeys etc. – is enough to have me running for the hills. However, if it is ghostly Governess fun you’re after and you don’t have a serious heart condition, then look no further than this rather spectacular production at the Almeida
As I entered the auditorium, I was met with an exquisite set – a stunning Victorian study, beautifully detailed with antique furniture and a rolling cloud-filled sky far up in the background. A well-to-do gentleman is interviewing a young woman for the role of Governess to his young niece and nephew whose parents have tragically passed away. The Governess, played by Anna Madelely, is quintessentially middle-class Victorian – prim, elegant and well-spoken. Throughout the conversation there is a sense that the uncle, Sackville, is looking for someone to take over the role of parent to the children while he keeps well away.
The performances in this production are exquisite across the board. Anna Madelely begins as a very mannered young Governess and slowly unravels into a nervous wreck. Gemma Jones plays the role of Mrs Grose to perfection while the two children, Emilia Jones and Laurence Belcher, are eerily mature in their mannered delivery. They work very well together and their brother/sister relationship felt completely real throughout the whole show. Even the two ghosts, who don’t speak, are stunning in their portrayals. Caroline Bartleet has a beautiful period look which makes her seem terrifyingly real as a ghostly woman from that era. I probably shouldn’t admit to this but Eoin Geoghegan’s heart-stopping hauntings stayed with me all the way home and forced me to keep a light on in the hall as I went to bed. If I could give an award to best silent performance on the stage ever, Geoghegan would win hands down. Bravo.
Some hard-core fans of playwright Henry James may be put off by the fact that this show is produced in association with Hammer Horror
, they of ‘schlock horror’ fame. However, I felt that part of the reason why this production works so beautifully is the exact same reason why Hammer is famous, ie. the suspense and the sheer thrill of being scared out of your wits. Both the set and the lighting are of the highest standards and both work together brilliantly to create something which is beautiful but which also creates an ominous feeling in the audience. As the set changes from one scene to the next, a colony of screeching bats rushes forth from the rafters, which gave me a minor stroke each and every time. The skyline was so genuine it felt like looking up at a real sky as clouds drifted past and rain fell heavily onto the stage below.
The choice to enrol the expertise of world-class illusionist Scott Penrose was a wise choice indeed (the tricks are mind-blowing) and his skills at creating an extra element of wonder are part of what makes this show great. I desperately wanted to give this show five stars and it is very nearly there but some overdone elements of the script made the story seem slightly predictable. However, director Lindsay Posner does well in bringing together a mix of astonishingly talented people to create an eerie world which will stay with you long into the night. Magnificent.
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The Turn of the Screw runs at the Almeida Theatre until 16th March 2013.