Musical artistry meets ambition in this excellent staging of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera.


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OperaUpClose embraces the intimate confines of the King’s Head Theatre. Orchestral voices crescendo and merge within the cloistered stage area to terrific, occasionally claustrophobic effect – audience experience is heightened by these unavoidable projections of conflict and fear.

Signe Beckmann’s stark, elegant set design makes ingenious use of semi-sheer fabric and clean lines to transport the nineteenth-century setting of Henry James’ famous novella into a vague, contemporary space. Clever lighting and Richard Bleasdale’s mysterious video projections turn the walls of the set into a shaping-screen of fractured psyches and the afterlife, where children tauntingly play hide and seek, and menacing spirits glower and lurk.

There’s not a single weak link in the solid, six-member ensemble. All are excellent singers and performers, impeccably cast and engaging throughout. With her full-bodied voice and suffocatingly protective physicality, Katie Bird (who is a dead ringer for the actress Melanie Lynskey) makes for a very strong principal. How she can vocalise such notes and inflections while at times lying on the ground, I do not know. She is the somewhat unreliable protagonist and Governess to Miles and Flora, played to precocious perfection by Samuel Woof and Eleanor Burke. Burke is a confident soprano and has a ballerina-like elegance and preternaturally mature bearing, making her a fine choice for the role of creepy, knowing Flora.

Catrine Kirkman and David Menezes are also excellent in their portrayal of the glowering, predatory spectres. They are choreographed to move sinuously and sensually around the theatrical space; dark counterpoints to the nervous, pious Governess. Laura Casey provides comic relief and brings an interesting, fresh interpretation of the Mrs Grose character.

David Eaton ties the production together with his dramatic and expressive piano accompaniments. Under the competent direction of Edward Dick, this is a truly impressive and enjoyable staging which succeeds in being both thought-provoking and emotive, ambiguous and quietly chilling.

The Turn of the Screw is playing at the Kings Head Theatre. For more information and tickets, see the website here.