The Turn of the Screw is HookHitch’s debut production, and what a confident debut it is. Benjamin Henson’s adaptation of Henry James’ haunting novel is compressed and claustrophobic, something Hookhitch capture wondrously.
This production of The Turn of the Screw is refreshing because it’s not just a ghost story. A Governess (Laura Trundle) is employed to take care of two children, Flora and Miles. The Governess grows convinced that these children are possessed by evil spirits that haunt the house – are they, or is it all in her mind? The Turn of the Screw becomes something of a psychological thriller as Hookhitch focus upon the mental deterioration of the Governess. In this fast paced production, the audience are left to their own devices to explore the truth, which is refreshing but difficult in a play that’s been cut to the extent that the story feels convoluted as we rush towards the ending.
HookHitch’s use of puppetry is insightful in a classic ghost story, avoiding the shock tactics of shows like The Woman in Black to slowly creep up on you. These wooden puppets (crafted by Casey Jay Andrews who also produces and plays Mrs Grose) are strangely lifelike in the way they move. They’re entrancing enough to draw my eyes away from the actors that manipulate and speak for them, emulating their being possessed by an external force.
The puppets are voiced by the actors who also play the ghosts supposedly influencing them. Laura Hannawin has genuinely haunting eyes as Miss Jessel, and likewise Adonis Jenico has a faraway look about him as Peter Quint. Casey Jay Andrews and Sullivan Brown come across as kind, earnest characters in their roles as staff, and Alexander Hooper is suitably dominating as the Uncle. None of the cast stray near stereotypes in this period piece. Alexander Hooper’s music also adds drive to this piece but does occasionally feel out of its period. It’s best used in a very clever sequence where the governess runs in and out of the sections of a hospital screen to reflect her searching the house for the children. Laura Trundle is absolutely frantic as the traumatised Governess, but sometimes comes across as too outrageous, as her madness must descend very rapidly in just fifty minutes. This is a play which needs longer to set in for full effect.
The many facets of this performance and the creepy puppetry combined with the Governess’ mentality make this a dynamic production, engaging on several levels. The attention to storytelling is evident, but does lack a greater aspiration other than being a story that’s told very well.
**** – 4/5 stars
The Turn of the Screw plays at Zoo Southside until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.