Review: Enigmatic and intriguing thriller with moments to make you jump

Annabel Smith with Maggie McCarthy in Turn Of The Screw SUS-180516-123223001
Annabel Smith with Maggie McCarthy in Turn Of The Screw SUS-180516-123223001

An isolated country house, and a newly-arrived governess for two innocent young children: innocent, or possessed? Decide for yourselves at the Devonshire Park Theatre this week, where The Turn Of The Screw will envelop and unnerve you.

Some may recall the 1961 film version, The Innocents, with Deborah Kerr’s compelling embodiment of the terrified governess. But put aside your preconceptions and approach this show afresh.

Tim Luscombe has an admirable track record in page-to-stage adaptations. This is essentially that same story, but seen through a different prism. To frame the whole story in flashback, as Luscombe has done, feels a bit unsatisfactory: better, surely, to let the narrative unfoldfrom the start.

The acting really cannot be faulted. Carli Norris lacks, perhaps, the physical fragility of a vulnerable young Governess; but she is in expert control of the emotions, from well-meaning sincerity through curiosity and alarm to outright terror. As housekeeper Mrs Groce, Maggie McCarthy is the essence of goodness and helpless concern.

You cannot tour with juvenile actors, of course, but Annabel Smith and Michael Hanratty are pretty convincing in playing down in age. Annabel has all the naivety of little Flora, while Michael grows into the impulsive truculence of young Miles. The issue, if anything, lies in asking him to embody the dark, malevolent figure of Quint. Perhaps this adaptation is one actor short; or even two, if we were also permitted a Miss Jessel.

Director Daniel Buckroyd draws on his technical team at the Mercury Theatre Colchester, to produce an atmospheric set with superb effects of both lighting and sound, underscoring every shock or spooky moment, and playing with that half-world between imagination and reality.

Does it succeed? Hmmm, define successful. Tuesday night’s opening audience loved it. Ghost stories make tempting theatre, and the production is effects-heavy, atmospheric, with regular moments to make you jump. Enigmatic and intriguing, it beckons the audience in. The effects alone may not quite sustain this production, but there is much to enjoy. By Kevin Anderson.