A discordant sense of unease pervades Red Rope Theatre’s Turn of the Screw, from the very first foot stepped inside of Arnos Vale Cemetery.
The last of the evening light in the breathtakingly beautiful grounds creates a natural set that oozes creepiness and atmosphere. The performance starts outside of the imposing Anglican Chapel which dominates a Victorian landscape bridging the world of the living and the dead.
That edginess carries through Red Rope’s production, with gripping storytelling and clever lighting keeping the audience tense and on the edge of their seat.
We are invited into a ghost story and remain immersed throughout, the action taking place within touching distance. That closeness makes scenes where the spirits of Miss Jessell and Peter Quint tormenting the Governess in the dark and while she sleeps all the more horrifying.
Lois Baldry flitted between the frightening Miss Jesell, pleasant Mrs Grose and dainty Flora with ease. As Miss Jesell, there is one point where she slowly makes her way through the chapel in a black hooded cloak, pervading the essence of a terrible spirit. Cut to the next scene and she is all angelic lightness as she flits around the stage puppeteering Flora, a simple white Victorian girls outfit on a hanger.
It’s this effective use of puppetry for the children Miles and Flora that makes this cast seem so much more than three. Zach Powell admirably brings both innocence and malevolence to Miles, a small wooden puppet.
Henry James’ original story is both incredibly simple yet deeply complex. This new adaptation by Rebecca Robson – also The Governess – keeps the themes going and the interpretation open. The tension is such throughout that you are waiting for that Jump Scare, but this fine production doesn’t need to resort to cheap horror movie tactics. As the governess, she takes us on a journey. A scary journey. A disturbing journey that leaves us holding our breath through each new horror as the play builds to its climatic end.
The Turn of the Screw is an inspired choice of play for such a setting on a dark October evening. If only more theatre could feel this fresh with such fine storytelling.