The Turn Of The Screw – Review

Henry James and Benjamin Britten had one thing in common. They were each capable of creating passion, intrigue, and excitement with their work.

James’ The Turn Of The Screw is one of the great literary classics, a spine chilling story that appals as much as it terrifies. It was a masterpiece of Victorian Gothic horror.

Britten’s 1954 chamber opera, of the same name, which uses a libretto by Myfanwy Piper, is vocally thrilling but theatrically it is as scary Scooby Doo.

English National Opera has moved into Regents Park Open Air Theatre this week for a very short run of its production of The Turn of the Screw. The opera fans were delighted. The theatregoers hugely disappointed.

Is it me or does opera lose something of its poetry when sung in English? Yes, it probably is me. I was surrounded on Tuesday night with a hugely appreciative audience who were rapturous in their praise.

It was ENO’s first sojourn into the park but I was unmoved by the tryout. Sinister, ocasionally, but there was no suspense, no atmosphere. no horror.

Soutra Gilmour’s set is impressive. A rundown greenhouse, surrounded by reed marshes that inexplicably have a piano sunk into them, is helped by Mother Nature who provided the cawing of crows and a disturbing breeze rustling through the trees.

This story about the corruption of innocence is intrinsically disturbing.

Two young children, left in the care of an elderly housekeeper and naive new governess, fall victim to the malevolent ghosts of two former servants.

Worse, there are suggestions that the evil former manservant, Peter Quint, may have ‘possessed’ young Miles during life and is now pursuing him through death.

Another of his conquests was the then nanny, Miss Jessel, who may also have corrupted little Flora and is now determined to renew the acquaintance from beyond the grave.

This tug of war between good and evil, life and death, is played put in the shambling grounds of Bly House, in East Anglia where the orphaned children appear to have been abandoned to the care of staff.

We see the youngsters – at my performance Sholto McMillan and Ellie Bradbury (both excellent) – up to mischief while the newly arrived Governess, (soprano Rhion Lois) attempts to control them.

But she is confronted late at night by red-haired Quint (William Morgan, in terrible wig) and, on telling housekeeper Mrs Grose (Sarah Pring), the old girl is forced to reveal past secrets.

Sexual abuse is an uncomfortable subject to use in entertainment but it is handled well, even if the libretto beats around the bush.

The children are very knowing, both already corrupted we assume, with Flora giving demonic looks and Miles too worldly for his tender years.

He’s been expelled from school and both are ripe to be repossessed.

But it is beyond comprehension that the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, portrayed as loving and concerned, admits that she turned a blind eye to what Quint had been doing with Miles when they were alone.

The voices, and the 13-strong instrumental ensemble, are skilfully miked. The ENO Orchestra, conducted by Toby Purser, are hidden away in the bowels of a wrecked greenhouse but their rendition of Britten’s score soars through the night air.

Strictly for fans of the opera.

Playing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre tomorrow and Saturday.

The Turn of The Screw


Review. English National Opera journeys to Regent Park Open Air Theatre to perform The Turn of the Screw but the production is robbed of tension and suspense in the open air.

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