Theatre review: The Turn of the Screw at Almeida Theatre

PUBLISHED: 13:31 28 January 2013 | UPDATED: 13:31 28 January 2013

Anna Madeley (Governess) and Lucy Morton (Flora) in The Turn of the Screw at the Almeida Theatre. Photo: Nobby Clark

Anna Madeley (Governess) and Lucy Morton (Flora) in The Turn of the Screw at the Almeida Theatre. Photo: Nobby Clark

©Nobby Clark

Tension and wholehearted theatricality make for entertaining adaptation of Henry James’s ghost story

I had never screamed in the theatre until I attended the Almeida’s version of The Turn of the Screw, Henry James’s 1897 ghost story about a governess who becomes convinced her two young charges are possessed by the dead spirits of former servants.

We first sense all is not well when our young lead arrives at the children’s austere, isolated stately home.

She is determined to love these two young orphans, but the innocent prattle of young Flora – played by a cherubic Lucy Morton on the evening I attended – is interspersed with a disturbing, precocious darkness.

And why has the apparently charming young Miles (Laurence Belcher) arrived home unexpectedly from school with a letter complaining of his ‘filth’ and ‘contagion’ to other boys?

When the governess becomes convinced that the depraved ghosts of Peter Quint, a former servant, and Miss Jessel, the former governess and Quint’s lover, are communicating with Flora and Miles, we are set for a battle over who shall possess the children’s souls.

This is a production that is long on screeching bats, a brooding set with darkened windows backlit by ominous red twilight skies, and flashes of lightning that bring some truly terrifying moments – and I was not the only audience member who yelped. But given that the story hinges on ambiguity – are the children really possessed or is their self-appointed protector herself the source of the trouble? – it makes for a tricky piece to adapt.

Writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz certainly ratchets up the anxiety levels as she leads us through ghost story towards psychological disaster. But by pinning the tale down for a stage climax, is some of the original’s chilling slipperiness lost?

Perhaps so, but as others in the audience who, like me, gasped their way through the show will attest, the tension and wholehearted theatricality of this production make for an entertaining piece of storytelling.

* At the Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street, N1, until March 16. Visit or call 020 7359 4404 to book.

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