The Turn of the Screw

Rating [rating=3]

Reviewed by Tony Peters

Play by Henry James
Adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Directed by Lindsay Posner

The Governess​Anna Madeley
Mrs Grose​Gemma Jones
Miles​Laurence Belcher
Flora​Emilia Jones, Isabella Blake Thomas, Lucy Morton
Peter Quint​Eoin Geoghegan
Miss Jessel​Caroline Bartleet

After masterminding cracking revivals of Noises Off and Abigail’s Party in the past year, director Lindsay Posner brings Henry James’ gothic chiller to the Almeida Theatre in a version adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz. The result is entertaining, well played and suitably scary, with just a smidgen of a but . . .

Written in 1898, the story has been adapted numerous times for virtually all media; TV, radio, stage, film (most notably the The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr in 1961), and has been the inspiration for an opera and graphic novel.

A governess is employed at a remote country house to take charge of an orphan brother and sister whose legal guardian is now their uncle, but who wants little to do with their upbringing. The only other member of the household we see is an elderly housekeeper, Mrs Grose.

But this convenient if not idyllic arrangement is soon unsettled as the story emerges of the children’s previous governess Miss Jessel, who got it on with another member of staff, Peter Quint, and was pretty indiscreet about it. Both died in mysterious circumstances, but continue to have a hold over the children, and the new governess becomes convinced that her charges are possessed by her predecessor.

Anna Madeley gives a well-measured performance here as the governess trying to hold it together for the sake of the children as the spooky goings on mount up and she is well supported by the ever-reliable Gemma Jones as Mrs Grose. The children, Laurence Belcher as the older Miles and Emilia Jones (alternating with two other actresses) as his sister Flora, both play with a maturity beyond their years — particularly Belcher in his climactic scenes with Madeley.

Posner’s version hits all the right buttons in terms of atmosphere and jumps — there is one particular moment courtesy of illusionist Scott Penrose that had the audience gasping and reeling — the teenage girls in front of me where in bits! However, little time is given to build the tension required to make a piece like this really work and the second act in particular is broken up by too many scene changes, lessening the mood of foreboding on which a good ghost story depends.

That said, this is a rattling good yarn and if you like a good spooky tale in the old-fashioned style it has much to recommend it.

The Turn of The Screw plays at the Almeida Theatre, London until 16th March 2013.