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Review: The Turn of the Screw, at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Governess and ghosts struggle for control of children in Timothy Sheader’s magical production under theatrical moonlight

03 July, 2018 — By Howard Loxton

Elin Pritchard in The Turn of the Screw. Photo: Johan Persson

THERE is no operatic overture to Benjamin Britten’s tight, atmospheric musical telling of this Henry James ghost story. Instead, there is a brief introduction given here by a tenor with an iPad who introduces this “curious story” as Britten’s music carries us back to see the past acted out in what looks like a huge broken down greenhouse.

It is here that a new governess arrives (Anita Watson) to look after two children: Miles (Daniel Alexander Sidhom) and Flora (Elen Willmer) with her only support housekeeper Mrs Grose (Janis Kelly). She finds it idyllically peaceful until she catches sight of a strange figure. His red hair identifies him as Peter Quint (Elgan Llyr Thomas), former valet to their employer – but he is dead, and so is Miss Jessel, the previous governess whom he “had his way with”. They are both here, ghosts corrupting the children as they did when they were living.

Governess and ghosts struggle for control of the children who seem so innocent until you discover what they are actually up to. But is it that simple? How much of this is just in the mind of a frustrated young woman?

Timothy Sheader’s production, with its broken dusty glass and furniture thrown out into the long grass, goes for symbols rather than realism – classroom and bedroom staged outdoors, but the tall trees and a boardwalk to the lake take the ghosts out into the park land.

Under theatrical moonlight these seem like real ghosts. Less convincing close up, they produce less of a chill down the spine than they sometimes do and the music doesn’t deliver as much lyricism or disquiet as it should. The conducting seems hurried and the amplification favours too shrill a sound when it should be more ethereal. However, much of the magic still comes through.

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