Theatre Review: The Turn Of The Screw

Benjamin Britten’s operatic thriller is a gripping show in a claustrophobic setting.

Benjamin Britten’s operatic version of Henry James’ book The Turn of The Screw is more than just a favourite story with a musical interpretation.

And this production directed by Edward Dick at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington is as gripping as one could imagine.

The tiny theatre provides a wonderfully claustrophobic atmosphere for a thriller which is casually described as a ghost story, but in fact is much, much more.

The grey stage is brilliantly lit with video projections on to the back wall and musical director Michael Eaton is a one-man orchestra weaving Britten’s devillish patterns.

Katie Bird is awe-inspiring as she takes the lead role of a governess sent to look after two orphaned children in a country house. All seems well for the governess with two angelic children to look after, but then the ghosts appear. Peter Quint (David Menezes) was a former servant at the house who had a relationship with Miss Jessel (Catrine Kirkman) the previous governess. They make a deeply disturbing pair.

Debate has long raged about the correct interpretation of the book, but Britten’s 1954 creation and Dick’s interpretation are clear – the two children in the story have been preyed upon by a pair of child-molesters.

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There is an extra scene in this version where Quint and Jessel are alone blaming one another for their relationship – what James would think of this addition it is hard to guess.

The ghostly appearances are also far more frequent here with Quint and Jessel vocally preying on the youngsters and destroying the mental state of the governess in eerie light behind gauze at the back of the stage.

To underline her descent into madness at the end the narrator, clipboard in hand, and a nurse appear on stage to silently observe the rocking, sobbing wretch.

* In repertoire at London’s Little Opera House at the King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street, N1, until Thursday, July 28.