With a cast comprising Fringe veterans, HookHitch Theatre is at the festival to find the company’s identity and independently create theatre to feel proud of. Founder of HookHitch, Casey Jay Andrews, tells me: “our ethos is to collaborate with different artists, but as far as style is concerned, I think this year was trying to find that.” For their debut production, HookHitch have taken up Benjamin Henson’s adaptation of the Henry James classic novel The Turn of the Screw.

“We weren’t going to try to be like The Woman in Black, which is probably the closest comparison you can come up with in theatre terms. We weren’t going to be a play that made you jump in your seat, we wanted to slowly work away at people becoming uneasy as they realise what’s going on. In Victorian times when it was released, it was just seen as a ghost story, but when you look back at it, the Governess is in social limbo between the serving class and the gentry. There are all these different accounts that have been found where governesses made up stories and did things so families would need them. She’s stuck and that’s something that led a lot of women in those times to such extreme measures. It isn’t just a ghost story; it’s a psychological exploration of a woman on the edge, looking back at a class that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Ghost stories are a difficult genre, but HookHitch have not only made The Turn of the Screw more than that, but have found a very marketable niche. “We chose The Turn of the Screw knowing that we needed something robust that would work at the Fringe.” Company member Laura Hannawin is also aware of the possible pitfalls of making your debut at the Fringe, “especially being a new company, you don’t want to bring something that’s too out there.” So it may be a result of their audience awareness that the reaction to the show has been very positive, according to Andrews: “our rehearsal period was so intensive because we were all in different schools during term time, so we had to rehearse it all in one big block. You really don’t know what the reaction is going to be like because you’re doing it every day with the same people, you’ve no idea of the outside view. We’ve had people that have been genuinely scared and it seems like they’ve genuinely enjoyed the piece which is really reassuring.” Hannawin believes an element of this good response is the fact they don’t patronise their audience – “we never specifically say that there are ghosts or that the Governess is mad. We imply both of them but leave the audience to it.”

An intriguing element of HookHitch’s process is that there was no sole director; The Turn of the Screw was a collaborative effort, so decisions like leaving elements of the story ambiguous were made together. “I think it helps the piece because you hopefully come out scared because of what you’ve had to think about, not because something’s jumped out at you. We found a way of working together because we’re not all in all of the scenes (except for Laura Trundle who plays the Governess), so we’d switch around and someone might direct a scene one day, and then someone else another day. You get a lot of different perspectives, so it wasn’t just one person’s vision.” But this way of working has its disadvantages too, “there’ll be a lot of discussions and days where you just feel you haven’t got anywhere, and realise we’re at the same place. Although that place will be very different to where we were in the morning, it will still be the same place. But it’s nice now that we’re here and it’s the product of all of us together; we all had a hand in the artistic direction of where it went.”

HookHitch’s method exemplifies that whilst looking for a company identity, they’re taking care not “to limit ourselves either. We’ve used puppets this year but we don’t want to be a puppet company, although it’s something we’d certainly involve in the future. In The Turn of the Screw it was just incredibly appropriate for the children to be puppets…it was about exploring what we could do. When it came to actually structuring together the piece a lot of it was shaped by the puppets rather than someone fitting them in – they led us to shape the piece in the end.” And by keeping an open mind and exploring puppetry more intensively, the members of HookHitch have found a new skill to add to their abilities as actors, “I guess that’s part of the ethos that we wanted to create, we wanted to involve different elements of design into the production so it’s not just us taking a play, doing the lines and being straightforward. There are other elements involved as well. We’re here to put on a good show and storytelling is actually one of the things that we decided was important for the company. It will influence what we do next year as we’re hoping to write or adapt things ourselves because that’s obviously the aim: we want to be creating our own work.”

HookHitch prove how much thought goes into independently taking a production up to the Fringe, beyond just the acting. But maybe their success isn’t just a product of their hard work, but fateful because “it’s interesting, but we’re living in two flats, and in both of them there’s a copy of The Turn of the Screw!” Perhaps a ghost left them there approvingly?

The Turn of the Screw plays at Zoo Southside until 27 August. For tickets or more information, visit www.edfringe.com or for more about the company, visit www.facebook.com/hookhitch or follow them at www.twitter.com/hookhitch.

Image credit: HookHitch Theatre