The Turn of the Screw @ Underbelly Cowgate
Great dramatic horror has always appreciated the chilling balance of patience, dread and eventual payoff. The Turn of the Screw is proof this formula still stands
To those unfamiliar with the original 1898 short story, The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James is a classic lurking in wait for any horror lover. Utilising the eternal trope of the haunted children, the play sees a new governess begin her service for two children at Bly House in Essex. Portrayed by puppets, there's something inherently unnerving about the children, they stray just out of the uncanny valley's depiction of 'human'. As secrets around the house grow, so, it would seem, do the spirits.
Antonia Christophers' performance has us gradually questioning every iota of the governess' sanity. It's an easy trick to make a character doubt their senses, it's a feat to force the audience to question theirs. A part of this lies with the show's sound design – the gradual fading of frequencies at the beginning unnerves the room from the get-go. The ambiguity of it all, whilst enticing, could be elaborate for a younger audience. There's a tad too much exposition shoved out in character interactions. What we may 'gain' in a plot, we lose in interaction.
The ever-shifting stage unfolds as Christophers scurries across the landings, the twists of the stairs, chests and windows manifesting around her. At first, it requires some getting used to, but as the story unfolds so must the setting. Noel Byrne, the co-artistic director, works effortlessly to manipulate the stage as both he and Christophers skulk around. He too primarily controls the puppets, and whilst his accent for Mrs Grouse may be a stretch, the movements the puppets make are life-like, eerie and effective.
Clad in gothic fiction, The Turn of The Screw as a text is littered with dread. It's precisely the quality one would expect from Box Tale Soup; an intriguing, if slightly complex adaptation.
The Turn of the Screw, Underbelly Cowgate, run ended
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