REVIEW: The Turn of the Screw, Barn Theatre, Southwick

Nikki Dunsford as Miss Jessel and Andrew Wesby as Peter Quint , back, with Kate Stoner as Mrs Grose, Bertie Atkinson as Miles, Nina Hayward as Flora and Keziah Israel as Miss Grey
Nikki Dunsford as Miss Jessel and Andrew Wesby as Peter Quint , back, with Kate Stoner as Mrs Grose, Bertie Atkinson as Miles, Nina Hayward as Flora and Keziah Israel as Miss Grey

Atmosphere is everything in any production of The Turn of the Screw, Henry James’ classic ghost story.

Southwick Players took Ken Whitmore’s stage version and made it their own for their spring production at The Barn Theatre in Southwick last week.

There were echoing announcements, flickering candles, dimming lights and strange goings on that really did invoke an air of terror.

Director Gary Cook said the story of what happened at country home Bly House at the end of the 19th century had long been a favourite of his. The Players’ version took small liberties with the original text, he said, but remained faithful to the spirit of the story, where the ambiguity makes the terrors all the more dreadful.

Arguably, this production did leave many more questions than it answered and some of the details included in both the set and the actions were not explained or referred to, making it a little confusing.

But the overall atmosphere was perfect for a ghost story and the performances were first class.

Keziah Israel, in the role of young governess Miss Grey, was the stand-out star.

This lead role is a huge part with a vast amount of lines. She quickly went from excitement to horror as she determined to protect the children in her care from the influence of their late governess and the late valet, who had his eyes on Miles.

Kate Stone provided great support as the servant Mrs Grose and met the challenge of ignoring the ghostly apparitions head on.

Opening the production with a scene in an asylum was unusual but effective and having the young inmate pass around the audience as the action began set the tone well.

Miss Grey’s young charges were older than the script dictates but Bertie Atkinson as Miles and Nina Hayward as Flora did a good job, not appearing too childlike, so it worked.

Nikki Dunsford as Miss Jessel and Andrew Wesby as Peter Quint had no lines to learn but as the ghosts, their performance relied on their actions and their stealth-like appearances.

On that note, there should be a nod to the excellent set construction team, led by Len Shipton, as the doors worked beautifully, without sticking or squeaking, so the ‘ghosts’ could really glide in and out like apparitions.

Such was the appreciation level on Saturday night that many of the audience gave a standing ovation, richly deserved by all involved.