Henry James’ classic ghost story Turn of the Screw has inspired countless haunted house tales over the past 120 years and has itself been adapted for stage and screen many times. But a new adaptation, which opened at the New Theatre tonight (Tuesday May 22) manages to be both original and disturbing.
This production, adapted by Tim Luscombe and directed by Daniel Buckroyd, stars Carli Norris as the governess, who as an innocent 20-year-old arrives for her first job in a remote and sinister country house, and who – 30 years later – is forced to reveal exactly what happened as she faced malevolent ghosts who threatened the children in her charge.
As the 50-year-old tells the story, can we be sure she is a reliable narrator? Were these terrifying ghosts real, or the product of her own sexual repression?
Eery sets (designed by Sara Perks) and lighting effects (by Matt Leventhall) combine to create a threatening atmosphere, in which our lead character’s fear of ‘The Others’ is totally convincing.
The play’s success hangs on Carli Norris’ central performance (she never leaves the stage), and she does not disappoint – either as the increasingly terrified young woman or as her older self, facing a potential new employer’s accusations.
Annabel Smith is excellent too, in a role which demands her to flip between a serious 38-year-old woman and a lively eight-year-old, who may also be aware of the evil that lurks in this mysterious house.
Maggie McCarthy and Michael Hanratty complete the talented cast, who have been touring the UK with this production since March. Cardiff is its last stop, so this week could be your last chance to see it for a while.
If you’re familiar with the original novel or any of the work that it has inspired – notably The Woman in Black, The Others, and The Innocents – or if you just enjoy a scary or intriguing tale, this production will delight you.
This is a sophisticated adaptation of a gothic horror classic, which manages to remain faithful to the original, while finding a clever new way to tell the ‘story within a story’. It’s also genuinely unsettling.
Henry James’ Turn of the Screw runs until Saturday (26 May) and tickets are available from the box office on (029) 2087 8889 and online newtheatrecardiff.co.uk
Review by Andrew Weltch