AT THE THEATRE
Edinburgh Fringe 2018: The Turn of the Screw @ Underbelly
Box Tale Soup’s adaptation of Henry James’ 1898 psychological/supernatural horror novella features Antonia Christophers as a governess who gains employment at a grand country house, where she is charged with looking after two orphaned children - one, a boy named Miles and the other, a girl named Fiona. For her first few months in residence, the time she spends in the company of both the children and the housekeeper is an absolute joy. Things take a sinister turn, however, when she begins to witness the visitations of two mysterious figures - one, a man and another, a woman (both played by Noel Byrne) - who pop up again and again in various locations within the house and its grounds. Are they the ghosts of Jessel and Quint, two previous employees who both wound up dead?
The unusual twist which Box Tale Soup brings to this adaptation, as with their other productions, is that most of the roles, bar those played by co-founders Antonia Christophers and Noel Byrne, are acted out via life-size puppets which the pair of them operate on stage. This adds a certain extra layer of macabre amusement to the story. The standout element here, however, is Christophers’ compelling performance as the central governess character, who remains a constant presence throughout as she reacts to the increasingly terrifying occurrences. She starts off as a warm and well-meaning young woman who clearly loves the company of children - but gradually becomes more visibly fraught and desperate over the course of the story. While her acting style is overtly theatrical, it suits the melodramatically old-fashioned feel of the story down to the ground.
The on-stage duo coordinate the mix of human acting, puppeteering and on-the-fly minimalist set changes very well. The electronic score (by Dan Melrose) is also suitably nerve-jangling. One area which did seem to be a little underwhelming, however, was the lighting. While there was the occasional filter colour change, the stage remained quite brightly illuminated throughout. Admittedly, the amount of onstage coordination required for everything would probably have precluded the company from attempting something too extreme, but even so, still felt that a little more could have done in this area to imbue a true horror ambience.
On the other hand, since much of the story’s impact comes from character psychology rather than from jump scares, it’s not a major issue. While I wouldn’t quite place it in the league of Jack Clayton’s superb 1961 movie adaptation of the same story, entitled The Innocents, it’s still gripping and enjoyable stuff.
Watch a video:
(N.B. This YouTube video is a teaser for a previous Box Tale Soup adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. It does not represent the content of this show but serves to demonstrate the theatre company’s talents.)
Tickets are available from the following link: