New Wimbledon Theatre Studio (venue)
23 October 2022 (released)
24 October 2022
It is always great to see a new play that has the courage to tackle difficult subject matter, by approaching it in a way that makes the audience question established understanding and prejudices. Turning the Screw explores the infatuation that Benjamin Britten has with the young choristers that were engaged to sing his work. Particularly David Hemmings who was cast as the original Miles in his opera Turn of the Screw.
Christian Andrews as Hemmings narrates his experiences with Britten during the development of the opera with an honesty and vulnerability that is totally engaging. As David, he carries the whole piece and is ever present listening in and setting up the scenes. By casting 6ft Andrews as David it cleverly removes the possible unease of seeing a 12-year-old being nurtured and instead enables the audience to see it as a friendship that is both joyous and flawed for both. Their relationship was undoubtedly infatuation but was that infatuation one-sided or was it mutual. That is the difficult question this play poses.
As Britten Gary Tushaw is excellent, we see in him with all the angst and childlike delight that was so much part of Britten’s personality. He shows exactly the right amount of passion as the composer. Then as Britten gets lost in his personal feelings and needs, his performance lifts even more and becomes gripping and extremely touching.
As Britten’s long-time lover and collaborator Adam Lilley shows the perfect level of frustration and jealousy as Peter Pears. He tries to get Britten to toe the line and not endanger his work, his reputation, or their love in times when homosexuality was still illegal. The other person in their lives is Imogen Holst who has the task of teaching young David whilst also being the friend to Britten and Pears, helping deflect attention away from them to the detriment of her own career. Jo Wickham does this so well, we see all her pent-up emotions every present in her body language and her face.
Kevin Kelly’s writing combined with Tim McArthur’s direction create a piece of theatre that cleverly concentrates on a short period of the Britten’s life. Yet it also explores the bigger issues surrounding consent and guilt and the struggles that existed for all gay men to live a true life in such prejudiced times. Thought provoking stuff indeed.