Audiences love mystery, thrills and suspense and if you couple this with a story which interweaves believable psychology, a show should be a success.

The Turn Of The Screw
  • Till Sat Jun 1
  • York Theatre Royal
  • £15 – £33.50
  • More details

Turn of the Screw achieves this.

The director Daniel Buckroyd approaches the subject with an eye to giving explanation. The behaviour and motivations of the characters are explored and in themselves are fascinating – yet he adds the ingredient of pure evil to leaven the mix.

The chief character of a governess is played by Janet Dibley with intensity and charismatic power. Her charges are used to stress the disintegration of childhood innocence.

It is easy to see them as agents of a diabolic power and the play must explore the reasons for this, We are told about ‘the others’ and begin to understand the power of two dead servants whose influence is totally malevolent.

Repressed sexuality

The original story by Henry James is told as a shared Christmas fireside tale. This storytelling device is explored cleverly by using several voices.

We have Flora, played by Amy Dunn, questioning her former governess and demanding to know the truth of what happened to her and her brother 20 years ago.

We have Mrs Grose, a housekeeper gradually divulging what she knows and finally we have the Governess describing the ghosts who haunted her. By these means we are gradually told the story.

Repressed sexuality is often at the base of Victorian horror stories; the strait-laced governess is visited by visions of Quint, a morally depraved man but is it evil at work or the feverish imaginings of a frustrated woman?

Remarkably convincing

Intensity and charismatic power: Janet Dibley
The cast of four have a huge task and are remarkably convincing. Amy Dunn plays Flora as both child and woman with interesting nuances which question the veracity of the governess.

Maggie McCarthy as Mrs Gose, the housekeeper, acts convincingly as devil’s advocate and finally as trusting confidante. Elliot Burton plays three very different characters but is the least convincing as the boy. I needed more precocious sensuality and confused desperation in his final struggle to preserve himself.

The sets are designed by Sara Perks who creates an eerie effect by using an inner proscenium arch which is set at an angle and disturbs our vision. The lighting is suitably atmospheric and sound also plays a major part with use of discordant and screeching noise.


Tim Luscombe’s adaptation is slick and masterly. Susan Hill’s Woman In Black was written as a homage to the novella, yet it is a very different animal. Turn Of The Screw leaves us with doubt and many questions; Woman In Black is a pure narrative with many twists.

Go to The York Theatre Royal this season and compare the two chillers. They are the same genre but very different in style and outcome.

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