Thursday, 7 March 2013

The turn of the screw

I went to see the The Turn of the Screw at the Almeida the other day.  As I mentioned a long time ago, we are trying to get a play based on one of my books - Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth - off the ground, and so it was a research trip as much as anything.

It was fascinating to see.  There is a trend at the moment for this kind of effects-based theatre, full of appearances and disappearances, sound effects and thrills.  This was the first I had seen and by all accounts it is not as strong as The Woman in Black production, for instance.

I know the story reasonably well - and was encouraged to revisit it on the way home on my Kindle.  I know it best through Jack Clayton's 1960s movie The Innocents, which improves, in my opinion, on the book.  Film allowed for a much more naturalistic performance from the young actors and also allowed them to be genuinely young.  Miles is ten in the story, but was much older here, with a man's voice.  It was understandable, given how much of the story they have to carry, but it did detract.  It was harder to imagine Miles as the beautiful innocent, corrupted by Quint.

The effects were good, in the main.  But it did inevitably become all about the effects, with people craning their necks to see where the next appearance was coming from.  The set revolves so much in the second act that it is in effect a roundabout.

It was also a strange atmosphere.  A little like a pantomime for grown-ups, with people coming for a good time.  And The Turn of the Screw is quite a serious plot to house that kind of fun.  As Gemma Jones as the housekeeper described Quint's depravity, the man next to me chuckled loudly - and he wasn't alone.  The script seemed to have become a connecting device to prepare us for the next jolt.  I don't really know what to make of it, except that it simply did not carry the psychological threat and menace that the story should have.  There was no ratcheting up of tension as there should have been.

Interestingly, it was pointed out to me that although The Turn of the Screw begins with the story being told to house guests and then read to them from a manuscript of the tale told by the governess, we never return to that wraparound story.

This is quite odd.  The man who tells the story was clearly in love with the governess at the centre of the story and when he meets her she is a governess at another house and apparently completely normal. We don't hear what the storyteller thinks of her after he reads the manuscript, nor do we hear what the guests think of it.

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