Henry James’ Turn of the Screw Review

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre – until 28 April

Reviewed by Heather Chalkley


Many debates and articles have been written about Turn of the Screw. Are the apparitions real or imagined? Has the children’s isolation from society caused a seemingly unhealthy balance in relationships, between brother and sister, upper and lower classes? This is a ghost mystery with a difference, employing Freudian concepts of psychoanalysis to twist your mind. James’ original story had complex layers of narration within narration. Tim Luscombe has stripped it back to the first person, inviting the audience to make their own decisions.

This is the tale of a young and vulnerable woman with an overactive imagination and ambitions to prove and improve herself. The sexually repressed Governess, played by Carli Norris, gave a believable performance, flipping between her young self and present day (1897). The decline into neurosis and hysteria was well conveyed, bringing the story to an inevitable climax in the revealed death of the boy.

Maggie McCarthy’s Mrs Grose, provided the perfect susceptible, stooge for the Governess that injected a much needed element of humour at times. Michael Hanratty has to be commended for his transition between the three male characters, including the apparition of Quint! In the same way Annabel Smith provided clear distinctions between Flora as the woman and child. Smith’s adult Flora smoothly developed the story in the first scene, bearing an oppressive and insistent pressure down on to The Governess.

Director Daniel Buckroyd has expertly used every nook and cranny of the small stage to eek out maximum dramatic impact, encouraging the audience to visualise lakeside, country house and London all in the same space.

Adam Hall created a twisted and dark atmosphere before the play even started, with an asymmetrical frame to the set, white dust sheets and long shadows. Matt Leventhall and John Chambers, use lighting, music and dramatic sound effects to produce classic, eerie ghostly effects, making people jump out of their seats more than once!

I would say this is more a lesson in psychoanalysis than a ghost story to enthral! I believe Henry James would be surprised and pleased with this adaptation, probably still smiling to himself at how much it leaves people to debate whether there are hidden messages in his story.