Monday, 28 December 1998

The Turn of the Screw, Dec 28,1998

Adapted from Henry James by Barry Lowe 
Performing Arts Projects 
At Ripponlea from December 28, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Henry James, in The Turn of the Screw, wrote a brilliant and provocative psychological ghost story. Numerous screen adaptations have been attempted, perhaps the most successful being Truman Capote's starring Deborah Kerr.

Far less effective is Barry Lowe's adaptation for Performing Arts Projects, directed by Robert Chuter and performed in the gardens of Ripponlea. This script lacks the emotional drive of James' novel and does not penetrate the murky psychological waters of his characters.

A young governess, (Tanya Burne) arrives at the country estate of a London gentleman to tend his two children, Flora (Felicity Radak) and Miles (Thomas Pitts) with the company of only the housekeeper. (Philippa Chapple). Miles has been dismissed from his boarding school for unknown misdemeanours and seems worldly,even seductive, beyond his twelve years.

The governess is besotted not only with the children's absent father but with the boy. Her obsession escalates into delusion or madness when she sees visions of Quint, (Karl Gorman) the master's infamous valet, and his consort, the previous governess, both of whom are now dead.

The governess's fear, like a juggernaut, sweeps her into a pitiful obsession and compels her to believe that the children are possessed by this wicked dead couple.

It is a pity that James' dense subtext of sexual repression, delusion and abuse of childhood innocence is here dealt with so superficially. Prose is a very different mode from theatre. Lengthy narration and description can enhance a novel but, in theatre, it is deadly.

In this instance, the narrator (Sean Ladhams) persistently interrupts characters with tiresome exposition. He describes their thoughts and actions, explains motivation. This merely serves to eliminate any emotional through-line. Such character detail must be contained in dialogue.

The locations within the grounds are glorious and actors compete with a chorus of show-stealing ducks on the lake and pigeons in the tower. It is a fabulous setting on a summer's evening.

The performances are limited. The jerky script does not assist the actors who struggle to maintain any sense of dramatic tension and, at times, even to be heard. The direction is static in spite of audience's moves throughout the gardens. Outdoor theatre craves physicality. This production needs more.
Kate Herbert

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