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Theatre Review: Turn Of The Screw

By Anna Rogers | 22nd May 2019

Turn of the screw

Janet Dibley as the Governess in Turn of the Screw

Usually I find writing theatre reviews very easy. Truthful and honest is always my approach. This time however, I am a little stumped. I will admit: my expectations for Turn of the Screw, the classic tale adapted for the stage by Tim Luscombe and directed by Daniel Buckroyd, were high. After all, the novel is as renowned as is the film, and who doesn’t love a good ghost story?

Yet sadly this production didn’t tick any of the typical boxes to satisfy me as an audience member, it fell short in so many ways and I was incredibly underwhelmed and dissapointed. Initially I was buzzing with anticipation,the eerie and crooked set design seemed to perfectly set us up for a menacing and gothic ghost story. The layers of crookedness in the frame were striking to look at and were definitely the core positive I could draw from the production as a whole. Designer Sara Perks and Set Constructioners, Mercury Theatre, Colchester deserve praise for imagining this and bringing it to life.

It is 1840 and a young governess takes her position at a wealthy household in the countryside, to look after two orphaned children. They are however not alone and ghostly apparitions torment the household forcing the troubled characters of Bly’s past into their lives. The play opens years later with the same Governess (Janet Dibley) , only older, revealing what terrible truths really happened in the household all those years ago.

Aside from there being a distinct lack of energy amongst most of the cast, who often brought poor delivery performances, limited emotional range and a very rigid set of movement and physicality to the space, the story dragging and failing to excite the audience or build any dramatic tension, and the ghostly elements of the story coming across as poorly executed, dull and clunky, I honestly have to say I found the whole experience to be shockingly poor quality considering the fact it was a professional touring company and a main stage show to come to York Theatre Royal, with the blame lying heavily at Buckroyd’s feet. When you consider the high calibre of work that has recently come to the main stage at York Theatre Royal, Wise Children, being one such example, it is hard to put the cast and creatives involved in Turn of the Screw in the same league. Even more shattering is the fact that there are many excelling small professional theatre companies in York who would jump at the chance to be given a platform such as the main stage and would put imaginative theatre at the heart of their work.

There was no clear vision throughout the production, I didn’t feel drawn into the story, I held little sympathy for the characters and the world of Bly at all. If anything I felt the entire performance, Dibley’s in particular, was lack lustre and restricted from creative ingenuity. The space wasn’t fully appreciated and used imaginatively, with the direction seeming to be very rushed and lacking in emotional depth. Disappointingly the music didn’t enhance any ghostly theatrics and showed little thought in it’s composition. The musical score should have aided the production and the storylines dark undertones, yet it was amateur in sound and not used creatively or played with.

The biggest shame was the failure to hold the audience and keep them gripped, which is crucial in the telling of a ghost story and especially in a theatrical space. We as an audience seemed to be kept waiting for ‘that moment’ which would suddenly inject life and meaning into the production and it never came.

The screw didn’t turn for me but it might for you!

The Turn of the Screw is showing at York Theatre Royal until June 11th.

Turn of the screw

Elliot Burton, Amy Dunn, Janet Dibley and Maggie McCarthy

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