The Turn of the Screw - A Tooth and Sinew and Seymour Centre Production (NSW)
Reviewed by Kat Pech
26th of July to 12th of August
- The work will captivate and unsettle you and stick in your mind long after you leave -
The Turn of the Screw, presented by Tooth and Sinew and The Seymour Centre, is an eerie and gripping Gothic tale that’s perfect for a cold winter’s night viewing. It perfectly encapsulates the same haunted vibes that inhabit Henry James’ original novella. Mid-way through the first act, my friend who accompanied me whispered “so this is getting a rave review, right?” She was spot on. Whether you come to this production knowing nothing about this story except the Gothic ghostliness of it, as she did, or having studied it in depth as I did, it will surely captivate and unsettle you.
As soon as you walked in the theatre, the set made an impression. Many of the performances I have experienced recently relied on pared down sets or projections, whether for budget or artistic reasons, so to see a set with shining, solid hardwood walls and furniture and multiple doors was a treat. The set is utilised extremely well, conveying the stifling luxury of a 19th century manor house perfectly. The heavy doors are expertly used throughout for both sound effects and atmosphere as well as movement. The cast were the stagehands, so it never felt like moving set pieces took you out of the tale, especially important for something like The Turn of the Screw, where the building of the tension is so important.
Lighting and sound effects were equally perfect, whether the ghostly, laboured breathing that crept over the stage or the thick build up of smoke or the stormy lightning flashes or the dim flame of a match constantly faltering, leaving the stage otherwise in darkness. All of it served to build tension and terror, and built perfectly in tune with the decay of the characters’ sanity.
"It perfectly encapsulates the same haunted vibes that inhabit Henry James’ original novella."
It is important to remember this is an adaptation of the original novella, and die-hard fans may be sceptical of the changes wrought. It had been several years since I studied the book, but seeing the play prompted me to undertake a re-reading, and while I missed some of the original aspects of the novella and questioned some changes - such as the ageing-up of Miles or the added isolation of the characters in the house, ultimately they make contextual sense for the new format, and didn’t detract from the plot. Some characterisation changes and choices with Miles and Flora did feel off at times for me, but ultimately it still felt true enough to the original while breathing in some fresh air.
Images by Phil Erbacher
Lucy Lock as The Governess was absolutely exquisite. Her intensity of character and creeping derangement and terror built and built. She perfectly encapsulated the character’s ambiguity: is this a woman beset with terror and enacting a perfectly rational response to terrifying circumstances or is she projecting her own trauma onto these children, and devolving into a complete mental breakdown? Certain choices of the adaptation meant that there was a different depth to The Governess, which enhanced and altered the themes without detracting at all from the original elements. Lock portrayed the character brilliantly; it’s hard to find the balance, to build the tension and terror but not overact, and she did this wonderfully. A truly wonderful performance.
Likewise, Martelle Hammer as Mrs. Grose was perfection, an excellent contrast to The Governess’ more educated manner, and the two together were riveting. They played beautifully off each other in timing and emotional range, and were both funny and tragic to behold.
Kim Clifton as Flora seemed to have a tendency to overact, though it is very difficult to play a child as someone older, trying to capture childlike enthusiasm naturally. Her character had a limited range, but certain parts were definitely charming. Jack Richardson as Miles felt like an odd casting choice, and while his acting was generally of very high quality, having someone so much older play a twelve year old boy did detract from his characterisation. Part of the eeriness of The Turn of the Screw is how young and supposedly innocent the children are, and while it made sense from an ethical perspective to have adults playing the child roles, it did take away from the horror, and occasionally pulled me out of the story though he performed very well for the challenges the role presented.
The Turn of the Screw was an excellent production that was well worth the watch. It is perfectly eerie winter viewing that will stick in your mind, questioning the reality of the tale, long after the play has ended.
Writer: Richard Hilliar (after Henry James)
Director: Richard Hilliar
Producer: Nicole Wineberg
Set Designer: Hamish Elliot
Lighting Designer: Ryan McDonald
Composer/ Sound Designer: Chrysoulla Markoulli
Costume Designer: Angela Doherty
Cast: Kim Clifton, Martelle Hammer, Lucy Lock, Harry Reid and Jack Richardson