REVIEW: Turn Of The Screw, Mercury Theatre Colchester ✭✭✭

Turn OF The Screw UK Tour
The cast of The Turn Of The Screw. Photo: Robert Workman

Turn of the Screw
Mercury Theatre, Colchester (UK Tour)
2 March 2018
3 Stars
UK Tour Schedule


A mournful wind puts shivers up my spine. Sounds and voices seem to swirl around my head, and the atmosphere is one of impending chaos. Shadowy figures seem to appear and disappear in front of me without warning, out of the corner of my eye almost. But enough of my walk to the Mercury Theatre through Storm Emma to see The Turn of the Screw.

Turn Of The Screw UK Tour
Michael Hanratty and Annabel Smith in Turn Of The Screw. Photo: Robert Workman

An unnamed Governess relates her story of her employment, when as a younger woman, in charge of Miles and Flora, given full responsibility of them in a remote country house in Essex. Miles has been expelled from school, the reasons never explained, and gradually the governess begins to see two strangers around the estate. She learns of her predecessor, Miss Hessel, and her sexual relationship with the former valet, Peter Quint. The figures come and go at will, and, as Miss Jessel is dead, these spirits are a clear threat to the children. It ends with the tragic death of Miles, a perfect ghost story for a winter’s evening.

Turn Of The Screw UK Tour
Michael Hanratty in Turn Of The Screw. Photo: Robert Workman

Interestingly, this was my first encounter with Henry James’ classic tale, and the major revelation to me was how much it clearly influenced The Woman in Black. Daniel Buckroyd’s efficient production also seems to borrow from the stage production of the Woman in Black, with its rocking horses and chairs, and cast members playing multiple roles. Tim Luscombe’s economical adaptation fails to avoid the pitfall of successive chunks of exposition, particularly in the first half, and the pay offs are a little disappointing in act two. He also condenses the cast to a company of four, and this somewhat reduces the presence of Quint and Hessel.

There are many positives to the show, however, primarily Carli Norris’s excellent performance as the Governess, skilfully moving between her present and the events of years earlier, living in each moment and conveying her story with utter conviction: she makes the evening worthwhile. Annabel Smith and Michael Hanratty are given the difficult tasks of conveying the younger children, as well as grown up Flora and grown up male characters. They don’t manage to escape the brattishness of the children, Flora herself is an extremely unpleasant individual, and it’s difficult to feel empathy for them. Maggie McCarthy is enjoyable as housekeeper Mrs. Grose; but it is a very stereotypical role, one dimensional in its creation.

Turn Of The Screw UK Tour
Carli Norris and Maggie McCarthy in Turn Of The Screw. Photo: Robert Workman

There is a tendency  these days to underscore a play with music or sound effects to let the audience know something significant is about to happen, and I’m not entirely on board with that. The audience are generally intelligent enough to understand subtext. Although the composition by John Chambers is effective, every shock is so highly telegraphed that there are few moments that really make you jump.  It’s played out on a superb set by Sara Parks, but the lighting sometimes fails to assist with locating the action. For example, I only knew the action was by the lake because the characters told me so; there were no ripples of waves or reflective light to assist me. The play also ends with a bit of a whimper, not a shriek, and, overall, this is a solid production that delivers exactly what you expect, but with minimal surprises.

A co-production with Dermot McLaughlin Productions and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, The Turn of the Screw tours the UK in 2018.


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