HENRY James’ novel The Turn of the Screw has provided chilling inspiration for composers, filmmakers and playwrights since its publication in 1898.
It plays on unnamed fears of the unknown, and as such can be “authentically” adapted to fit the preoccupations of any time.
At Pavilion Dance, performing arts students from Arts University Bournemouth brought a new version to life. Described as a “ new musical” written by Chloe Austin and Paul Knight, it updated the tale to an amorphous present day, and set it in a Bly inhabited by ghostly presences of a past stretching back to the 16th century. To describe it as a musical is a bit misleading – there’s no song and dance here, but an edgy operatic score by Paul Knight that was played live on stage by AUB music students.
Here the malevolent Peter Quint is ingrained in the timbers of the ancient house on the marshes, his influence felt by generations of residents whose undead presence fills the corners and corridors.
New governess Ella is interviewed in a London office by a peculiar and charismatic uncle (played by the versatile Dominic Vallance after his recent Olivia in Twelfth Night). Half falling for his charms, Ella agrees to take on the challenge of Miles and Flora, isolated at Bly.
Katherine Piercey’s vision was brought to life not only by the intense and mesmerising performances on stage, but by a set, costume, sound and lighting design that sent chills through the intimate theatre at Pavilion Dance. Shapes appeared and disappeared through walls, arms grabbed through pillows, spectral visions materialised in the auditorium … all adding to the tension of the piece.
It was unfortunate for the cast that Hannah Wyss (Ella) fell during the dress rehearsal and had to perform from an unaccustomed wheelchair, which also meant a reworking of the whole movement at a very late stage. But they minimised the effect of this clunky problem, and never lost the terror that surrounded it.
Jade McSharry managed a totally convincing Eastern European accent as the bustling and dependable Mrs Grose, and Evelyn Powell was a chillingly ghastly Jess. Matt Williams brought all his charisma to the terrifying Quint.
Emily Rowan not only has a beautiful singing voice, but epitomised the dangerous duplicity of the already possessed Flora. Alex Bird was perhaps too mature as Miles, missing the element of the child-turned-seducer and so the pathos of inevitable death.
This was a production that will stay long in the memory.
This AUB group has one more production before graduation. The Man of Mode will be performed at the Meyrick Hall in Boscombe from 12th to 14th May.