The Turn of the Screw
Reviewed – 8th March 2018
“subtle layering of shadows and downlights gave a real boost to the overall gothic and insidious feel of the play”
Tim Luscombe’s take on Turn of the Screw is a lesson in well considered casting and tight production values. From the outset there is a distinct sense of unease, begun with the skewed set frame and followed through into the opening scene of increasingly uncomfortable conversation between the two most prominent cast members – Carli Norris as The Governess and Annabel Smith as ‘Mrs Conray’. What follows is a twisting tale of death and mystery told to examine the concept of what it is to be truly haunted.
Carli Norris is a solid leading lady, flowing well between the nuances of a demure and well intentioned governess to the unhinged but doting companion of two apparently disturbed children.
Annabel Smith was quite perfect in jumping between the aspects of her character, which could have easily become a messy portrayal of a girl at different points of her life but her performance was absorbing and very precisely defined. She was equally irritating, masterful, childish and cruel, and instrumental in holding together the leaps of the narrative between past and present with impeccable physical cues as well as her dialogue.
Michael Hanratty, billed initially as merely ‘The Man’ also turns out a well thought performance that made uncomfortable watching if only because his convincing childishness felt decidedly squeamish from an adult player – which of course was the point a lot of the time. Maggie McCarthy tied up the cast in a somewhat stereotypical role of good-old-working-class-woman-of-certain-age that was predictable but nonetheless well delivered.
It was no surprise to see a long list of classical theatre credits after the name of Matt Leventhall, the Lighting Designer, who deserves special mention. Although there are obvious bangs and jumps and sudden lights out moments to keep the audience jumping, the more subtle layering of shadows and downlights gave a real boost to the overall gothic and insidious feel of the play throughout to the point that one felt both relieved and over exposed when it was time for the house lights to come back up.
It really is all very well done, which makes me regret having to say that I think this might be a production recommended for genre fans only. I haven’t read Turn of the Screw, nor seen any of its Hollywood outings and I’m left with the feeling that this production was brought together by a team who adore the source material but have failed to make it entirely accessible via this play alone. Nothing in the telling is unclear, however. The premise and the action and the prescribed twist are all quite plainly there but it all fell a little bit flat, taking something of a downward turn not long into the second act.
I feel I was missing something, some greater understanding of the story or perhaps more of the time that it comes from. I love a period drama, but there needs to be something fundamentally relatable to really bring all of the stiff old fashioned costumes and storm tossed country estates to life for me, and I suspect that had I read the Henry James novella I might have found it easier to immerse myself in this play. As such I’m not sure in summary if I was disappointed in the production, or disappointed in myself for not being more well prepared to enjoy it!
Reviewed by Jenna Barton
Photography by Robert Workman
The Turn of the Screw
Colchester Mercury until 10th March then touring
The Secondary Victim
Reviewed – 15th November 2017
“the realist minims of the performances are truly cinematic in their detail”
For anyone with experience of therapy, The Park Theatre’s ‘The Secondary Victim’ very much mimics its own context; the trials and tribulations of the one-to-one session. The piece is a thought-provoking and honest insight into the core of human relationships; exploring the similarities and differences between personal and professional relationships, the role of therapist and client and the blurring of boundaries. These issues are approached with sensitivity and essentialism, cutting to the core of our relationships with Matthew Gould’s employment of a simple and engaging aesthetic and theatrical structure. This incredible and detailed focus sometimes feels at odds with sporadically philosophical sections that feel less relevant, pushing its run time to a rather impressive 160 minutes and recommending, perhaps, a streamlining of the current script.
The Secondary Victim explores the voids in human relationships; the professional therapeutic relationship in which one pays for personal support, the breakdown of a personal relationship in which support is non-existent. Telling the story of Ally, a therapist accused of sexual misconduct by a former client, the piece follows a series of duologues between a range of characters. This structure lends itself well to a piece largely centred around therapist-client relationships. However, by relying on this format almost entirely, the conversations have a tendency to fall into catechismic exposition; a conceit that could be easily resolved with some careful editing. In our current context of the Weinstein accusations, this piece draws attention to the difficulties of professional relationships and the wavering boundaries that exist within them, giving a well-timed and bold new perspective on the fallibility of emotional and professional connection.
Staging the piece in the round largely serves well to draw the audience into the action as observers, save some unavoidable occasional sightline issues. With four chairs positioned at the corners of the space, the audience is invited into the space as an objective part of the scenery, positioned as one of the four walls. The realist minims of the performances are truly cinematic in their detail, particularly so in the work of Hugo (Michael Hanratty) and Ali (Susannah Doyle). The subtlety of expression employed by Doyle brings a sense of alignment with her character, provoking both our sympathy and our interest in the complexities of her subtext and her emotional life. Hanratty similarly gives an incredibly expressive performance as Hugo; as the antagonist of the piece, he hints to a layered vulnerability beneath the bitter two-dimensional front he has been scripted.
In a piece about the gaps between relationships, The Secondary Victim deconstructs our ethical panopticon with care and conviction, though its thoughtfulness sometimes leads the narrative more into the realms of academic philosophical debate rather than focusing on the narrative microcosm. With a cut to these less relevant sections and thus a focusing of the material, the characters complexity would have more room to exist on-stage. In its current state, the piece uses audience as therapist, presenting us with the external reality through a host of information and encouraging us to unpick the characters ourselves. Their complexity fosters understanding, rather than judgement, bringing a small piece of therapeutic congruency to our relationship with the piece.
Reviewed by Tasmine Airey
Photography by Matthew House
THE SECONDARY VICTIM
is at The Park Theatre until 9th December