This new adaptation of the famous Henry James novella is billed as “The Classic Ghost Story”, but it’s actually and intentionally much more than that. Tim Luscombe has carefully constructed his drama to simultaneously ratchet up the tension, while at the same time picking at the threads of his characters as they start to unravel.

A disorientating triple proscenium arch frames the stage, and unseen by the players, a rocking horse creaks back and forth. Then darkness. The narrative is framed in the present as an interview with the governess by an apparent prospective employer, but it soon becomes apparent that the lady has another agenda, and it is her interrogations that cast us back in to the past, some decades ago.

The action continues to flicker between present and past in an impressively seamless manner, the lighting drastically and instantly transforming the stage from an enclosing town house to a children’s room in a country mansion. The actors themselves also instantaneously transition back and forth, with Annabel Smith’s switching between adult and child being a particularly impressive performance. The adults in child roles works well, helped by the significant differences in stature of the “adult” actors and those playing the children, but it also brings a peculiar creepiness that enhances the feeling of disquieted fascination that the drama is continually working to achieve.

The transition portrayed by Carli Norris as the Governess is of a different kind, as the screw of the title is tightened in both past and present, and she does succeed in pacing her performance as she gradually unhinges. Michael Hanratty as the other of her youthful charges shows us yet another form of change, as he transforms in fits and starts from boy to man, son and brother to potential lover. Maggie McCarthy in contrast has the role of stability, the house keeper who’s been there for years and is a comfort to all, and she delivers this convincingly. She is also a reminder of the limited roles available to the servant classes, and the transgression of the rules that govern relationships between the owners and staff of big country houses is one of the triggers for the troubles that this story portrays. It is by no means the only transgression however…

So not just a ghost story then, but a psychological thriller winding in strands of hope, trust, betrayal, social and sexual repression, and how the world is experienced at different stages of life, but all set in a big scary mansion haunted by ghosts of the past. This is really quite a sophisticated tale of the uncanny that entertains by delivering tension and thrills, but is also so thought-provoking as to linger in the mind long after leaving the theatre.


Dates:
Windsor Theatre Royal 13 – 17 March
Leeds West Yorkshire Playhouse 20 – 24 March
Malvern Festival Theatre 27 – 31 March
Portsmouth New Theatre Royal 3 – 7 April
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre 10 – 14 April
Worthing Connaught Theatre 18 – 21 April
Guildford Yvonne Arnaud Theatre 24 – 28 April
Mold Theatr Clwyd 1 – 5 May
Chesterfield Pomegranate Theatre 8 – 12 May
Eastbourne Devonshire Park Theatre 15 – 19 May
Cardiff New Theatre 22 – 26 May
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